Warp factor 9!
Universities don’t often make the front page of the paper. But then headlines, it seems, behave like buses. You wait and wait for ages and then two come along at once. Don’t believe everything you read in the press though. We haven’t instantly doubled our international student numbers through merging and we haven’t turned Magill into a retirement village. I do stand by my comments around ATARs though (that I don’t care for them). That was accurately reported. To be fair to the journalists, they’ve been grappling with a lot. A lot of hypotheticals. Are you merging? No. So you are not merging? No. What are you doing? Exploring!
I suppose it could get confusing – and ‘it depends’ doesn’t sit well as an answer.
But it all depends. It depends on whether there is a path in combination with our near and dear neighbours which will take our university and stakeholders further and faster towards where we want to be than any route which we might travel alone. And at what cost – in every sense of that word, not just monetary.
From a journey perspective, well, we’ve already crossed the horizon and we know exactly what we would do if left to our own devices. One might say we know our own mind, if one was Irish and partial to gnomic statements. But we do know what makes us tick (and tock) and we know where we are culturally and in terms of our stated, shared and lived ambition. And we are ready to move forward. At warp speed. (Sorry, it’s been ages since I made an overt Star Trek reference).
As an aside, on any other day, a Council meeting where you have a seven year, $550m strategic plan approved, a new stretch reconciliation plan approved, where you have the appointment of a new Chancellor – the first female Chancellor in our university’s history - and have clear and unanimous articulation of the core tenets of your organisation reaffirmed by your board of directors as they worked through what we hold dear and immutable about our institution, would be a pretty amazing day. We had that day last Thursday. All of those things actually happened. Such are the times in which we operate, that we quite literally moved on to what happens next. That’s a real pity. A lot of people worked really, really hard to get us to last Thursday. They’ve juggled mental chainsaws and navigated the pressures of balancing MYEFO with the ambition of Australia’s University of Enterprise – and we didn’t pause to reflect and acknowledge that appropriately – and for that I am truly sorry.
I’ve bemoaned this issue before in blogs and won’t labour the point here. But it was a really big day. We moved through a mountain of important business and then just got on with getting stuff done. We were out of the traps and running again, busy being awesome. As we have proven we do so well time and again. We were so busy we didn’t spend anywhere near enough time in the moment. The tragedy here is that being so very busy diminished our recognition of achievement. We had finished the difficult second album. We took a great stride towards Reconciliation, building on 27 years of institutional commitment. We farewelled an outstanding Chancellor who will now take on a crucial leadership role in our State and we welcomed a new Chancellor who is poised and ready to help steer us through the turbulent waters in which we are navigating. The inability to pause and acknowledge achievement of so much hard work by so many in the institution, that inability which I loathe, but which also says we are routinely able to achieve so very much, is a consequence of the complexity of our current existential scenario. Right now we have the opportunity and the challenge to create a university for the future. We have the opportunity to be truly creative and build an environment where students are well-informed and well catered-to consumers of contemporary and relevant content and pedagogy, where outstanding research is put to work to solve real world problems and where end-users inform our teaching so that the graduates they eventually employ are professionals who can contribute positively from day one. That’s the gig. We just have two possible ways of playing it. The next few months will collapse the probability landscape to an outcome and we will move forward on the course of our choosing to the destination we have set.
One way is going it alone, prosecuting our well thought through plan, Enterprise25. Fixing our focus on programs, people and precincts. Reorganising ourselves to deliver the best programs we possibly can. Staking our claim on industrially relevant excellent research – positioning ourselves among the very best nationally and internationally. Building on everything we have achieved in the last 27 years.
The other way is to go with a partner. A merger could give us a new university which was bigger and better than the sum of its parts. It could afford us the opportunity to combine and consolidate our complementary expertise, particularly in areas like defence, health, agriculture, education and engineering. A new university of the scale being explored could be one of Australia’s biggest and best with a reach that could make it one of the most international universities in Australia. If it reached its potential it could attract the best teachers and researchers, keen to be involved in creating innovative and ground-breaking intellectual property. It could attract the best students, both nationally and internationally, and the State and the nation would benefit from the ideas that they would generate.
A future replete with ifs, coulds and mights. But a future worth exploring.
We won’t be swayed by hypothetical hyperbole, by doom-mongers or by the overly optimistic. If it makes sense for us, we will know. If it stacks up, we will know.
And if it doesn’t stack up, we have an awesome plan already – a plan against which we can measure any alternative. A plan that’s flexible enough so that we can augment it with our learnings along the way and accelerate towards our destination. And which we will undoubtedly reach. At warp speed, if past behaviour is any predictor for the future.
Through The Big Picture, I hope that our whole community gains a greater and current appreciation of what is going on, how it fits together and how our activities connect and reinforce each other at a whole of enterprise level.