Wednesday, October 31, 2012

CQ a leader in innovation and research

Lately it seems there is not a day that goes by when we don’t see something on morning television or the evening news about a research breakthrough - whether it be a cure for a life-threatening disease, or a new study confirming that chocolate and wine are good for you (I’m particularly fond of these).

When you think about it research is all around us. Some people devote their entire lives to researching a particular concept, just to improve the lives of others.

Today we are fortunate enough to have access to vaccines for devastating diseases like polio, measles and cervical cancer, lives are saved because of advancements in surgical technologies, and we can now understand and protect our environment better than ever before, all because of research. Where would we be today if someone somewhere hadn’t embarked on a journey to uncover these findings? Research is about knowledge, and knowledge changes lives. 

I’m very proud to lead a university that has an absolute commitment to excellence in research and innovation – even more so because much of the research conducted at CQUniversity places an emphasis on issues that directly affect the Central Queensland region. Take for example research into the effects of FIFO/DIDO lifestyles on workers and their families, or studies into water quality changes and the impact on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

CQUniversity’s research institutes and centres facilitate research projects in areas such as environmental management, railway engineering, power engineering, business, health, physical activity, domestic and family violence, and education.

We also aim to achieve complete relevance in our research efforts through strong links with industry, government and our community, as well as through tight collaboration with national and international researchers and research networks - good research, which is relevant, always involves a high level of engagement.

It’s also important to remember that research isn’t just about medicine and science. Research can focus on all types of issues that are part of our everyday lives. CQUniversity’s Noosa campus recently hosted the first International Cookbook Research Symposium, our nursing school uses puppets and masks to aid in education and research, and we are now shaping up as an emerging Indigenous research university. It’s a far cry from the traditional stereotype of the scientist in a white lab coat huddled over a Bunsen burner – although we do a fair bit of that too!

CQUniversity’s future research efforts have also been boosted by the establishment of the Central Queensland Innovation & Research Precinct (CQIRP) in Rockhampton. This facility, valued at around $30 million will allow us to further expand our research efforts and scope over the next 10 years, and will position Central Queensland as the research and innovation capital of regional Australia, revolutionising the impact the University currently has on the communities we serve.

Our research is also beginning to speak for itself as last week one of CQUniversity’s research teams led by Dr Dr Corneel Vandelanotte, was awarded a national research grant valued at almost $700,000. 
Dr Vandelanotte's research is focused on finding effective and innovative methods to increase physical activity in large numbers of Australians at a low cost. He has designed and evaluated several innovative website-delivered physical activity interventions. 

What a fantastic achievement for Corneel and his team – congratulations!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

University home to not just classrooms and books

A theme I have talked about in many of my previous blogs, has been around CQUniversity being an engaged university, and the many ways in which we work with our communities to give back.

In fact just last week I talked about engaging communities through our research efforts. So in staying with this theme I thought this week I could use this opportunity to let you all know about the CQUniversity art collection.

I am sure when many people think about CQUniversity (or any university for that matter) they would think about libraries, computer labs and classrooms. Of course we have these, but what many people don’t know is that CQUniversity is also home to an incredibly extensive collection of art – all of which is accessible to our local communities – right across our entire campus network.

CQUniversity started this collection in the 1970s and has since acquired artworks through purchase, commission, and donation. This collection represents huge value for the university (and the community) not just in terms of monetary value but also its historical and cultural significance to the Central Queensland region.

Made up of almost 600 pieces, mainly from Australia, it includes paintings, ceramics, sculptures, photographs, crafts and prints. It really is a truly outstanding collection and without a doubt would be envied by any gallery or museum in a capital city.

While we don’t have a specific art gallery space at the University we do make these works available to the community through public displays, publications and by loaning various pieces to other organisations for display, such as regional art galleries and other universities. This approach not only opens our collection up to national and international audiences but also allows us to engage through the sharing of art.

Engaging audiences and communities through art also promotes a rich cultural experience – particularly in regional areas where we generally don’t have the same level of access to the arts that our city neighbours do, and it also allows us to inspire education and new creative pursuits among our audience members.

I would also even go as far as to say that this is one of the University’s most significant scholarly resources, and demonstrates our commitment to and leadership in the study, patronage and advancement of the arts – not just locally but across all of the communities we serve.

CQUniversity is very fortunate to have this collection, as are the people of Central Queensland - because it belongs to you too. More work is currently being done to further improve public access to the collection and as this comes to fruition going forward, I hope many of you will take the opportunity to behold the collection and become involved in its future. It is a real asset to our region, not just at present but for many generations to come.

Richard Dunlop standing next to his painting Iron Ore 2

It is also timely that I highlight our art collection today as this morning we were lucky enough to unveil a Richard Dunlop artwork Iron Ore 2, which he donated to CQUniversity personally under the Cultural Gifts Program.

Richard decided to donate the painting in memory of his father Herbert George Dunlop, who was born in Rockhampton and lived there until he was an adult. Richard also chose the space in the Bruce Hiskens Library on the Rockhampton campus where the artwork will now be displayed.

I’d like to thank Richard on behalf of CQUniversity and also the local community for this donation and invite you all o visit the library and enjoy this spectacular painting.

Me with art collection manager Sue Smith, Richard Dunlop and library director Graham Black

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Re-emergence of agriculture

Australia has long been known around the world as a leading agricultural nation. Our climate (though often volatile), vast pastoral lands and mineral rich soils all contribute to the country’s high production of commodities like fruit and vegetables, grains, meat and wool to name a few.

In the last few years, however, farming has taken a backseat to mining. The nation that “grew off the sheep’s back” is now growing off of its coal seams and iron ore deposits. With the growing demand for coal and steel in developing nations, the resulting skills drain of farmers to the lucrative mining industry, severe drought and most recently devastating floods, there has been a ‘perfect storm’ of factors contributing to the downturn in agricultural production.

It is always a shame to see once very strong industries suffering due to external influences, particularly when these industries have previously kept the nation afloat for so long. It’s also a shame to see once vibrant regional communities suffer as families leave and businesses are forced to close.

Recently I have been reading and seeing a lot in the media about new and sustainable practices in agriculture that are paving the way for a ‘renaissance’ of sorts in the industry. Based on research and science these new practices are uncovering smarter ways to improve crop and livestock yields and deliver better returns for farmers.

Growing interest in the environment and the food we eat is also driving an increased demand for higher education programs in agricultural studies and food science.

Breathing new life into this industry through research and education can only be a good thing - not just for farmers but for the communities they belong to and the natural environment as well.

This trend really excites me. Through adopting and employing sophisticated research methods the agriculture industry will be better equipped in years to come to meet future challenges – both environmental and financial. Educating new workers will also help to reduce the impact of future skills shortages – in my mind a smart industry is always going to be a successful industry.

It is also absolutely essential for Australia to invest in new and existing industries going forward, because a diverse mix of strong industry sectors will obviously improve the nation’s long-term economic and social prospects – and encouraging research and education is always a great first step.

I am pleased to say that CQUniversity is already well placed to support the future of the agriculture industry, through our extensive agriculture-related research efforts, which include studies into pasture quality, precision livestock management and rural economics. We also deliver undergraduate programs in Agricultural and Food Science which equip graduates with the knowledge and expertise to employ innovative techniques to farming and operate in this always evolving industry. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what farming of the future will look like. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

From Strong to Great – the next steps

Approximately three months ago I made contact with all CQUniversity staff, students, alumni and regional engagement committees asking them for their feedback on the University’s Strong to Great proposal.

First of all, let me say ‘thank you’ for all of the emails of support, encouragement and constructive criticism we have received thus far. We have had an overwhelming response by email and I have had countless people stopping me in the street (or on one of our campuses) to pass on their suggestions.

We have the aim of being Australia’s most engaged university and this kind of active participation from staff, students and stakeholders is a great signpost of engagement.

So, what’s next?

Initially, we will need to sort through all of the feedback we have received…to do this, I have appointed a ‘Strong to Great’ working group comprised of individuals representing the needs of staff and students from across CQUniversity’s campus footprint.

The working group will look at the submissions in detail and identify key themes and suggestions for the university to follow up on. Their efforts will be compiled into a report, which will then be shared with all stakeholders, and will help form the basis of further discussions by the University Council and executive team as we continue to shape our from Strong to Great proposal. Following on from this we will soon commence Round 2 of the consultation process, which will garner feedback from the wider community living in our campus footprint.

I look forward to sharing regular updates from the S2G working group with you and further shaping our vision between now and the end of the year, as we move travel further in our journey from Strong to Great.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Distance Education

There are many education providers delivering options for distance learning these days, and Central Queenslanders can be proud that CQUniversity was one of the true pioneers of this trend in Australia. 

Studying by distance is increasingly becoming a viable way to gain a higher education qualification – particularly for postgraduate students who are already in the workforce and are looking to further their career or head in a new direction. Essentially, distance education provides greater flexibility and allows many people to gain a qualification that they otherwise may not be able to, due to work and family commitments or geographical distance. Studying by distance allows students to continue full-time work, care for families and stay in their local area. 

Distance education has moved on a long way since I studied as a distance student. I did an MBA on line – but this was quite a while ago and distance education has moved on a long way since then. The new on line programs offer an incredibly rich study environment.

Our distance education students can study their course content through a range of distance-friendly tools including the use of online discussion forums, electronic library resources, direct contact with teaching staff, and receiving all study materials online or by post. All distance programs at CQUniversity can also be studied from anywhere in Australia.

With the high number of institutions now delivering distance study options, remaining competitive in this area is a must, but we cannot let this get in the way of improving our offerings and providing the highest quality educational outcomes for our students. In a country as big as Australia, distance education is an absolute necessity and quality is paramount.

Over recent years CQUniversity has done a lot of work to enhance our distance program offerings and the overall student experience by improving access to and availability of study resources. Students based in metropolitan areas have access to resources at our Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne campuses, and students in Far North Queensland can now take advantage of the new study centre which was opened in Cairns recently. 

This network of study centres takes the loneliness out of distance study. Students can meet up with their fellow student, video conference back to other campuses and meet with our centre staff.

Along with this we are also committed to delivering programs that are regionally focused. After all some skills shortages are a direct result of poor access to education and training in regional areas, meaning students have to leave their local area to further their education - with many not returning to offer their skills to that community afterwards. 

An example of overcoming this challenge is our new distance education Midwifery program. This program is aimed at increasing the pool of midwives available to regional Queensland communities, by offering a completely flexible program of study to our regional and remote students and encouraging them to stay in regional Queensland after graduation. Non-metropolitan areas should not be missing out on quality midwifery services because of a lack of flexible and accessible healthcare education and training options. Delivering this program will ultimately result in more midwives in regional communities throughout Queensland, overcoming skills shortages and promoting better healthcare for women and babies in these areas. 

By continuing to improve our distance program offerings and working with communities and industry to identify areas in which training is most needed, I believe CQUniversity is well placed to become Australia’s leading university for distance education, and this is one of the things that will make us a great university.