“If we are planning for a more educated and prosperous nation, the recent tumultuous political dialogue around higher education has been less than ideal,” Dr Gould says.
“The difficulty we face in debates around funding and fees is that the higher education system is not simple. The model is complex and it is not easy to explain in the public arena, so the debate can fall apart based on headlines and one-liners.
“What really matters for our national progress – our capacity to be innovative, our ability to compete internationally – is not who’s right, but what’s right.
“Ultimately investment in tertiary education is just that – a solid investment in our future.”
A graduate with a PhD in Geology from one of Australia’s leading institutions, the University of Sydney, Dr Gould has witnessed more than one revolution in higher education funding and seen the idea of university study move from being the preserve of the elite, to today, where a university degree is considered the foundation stone of most careers.
As someone with a professional career in the mining industry spanning more than 50 years, Dr Gould has a lifetime’s experience of what makes people job-ready.
“It is vital that Australia has a really strong tertiary education sector for so many reasons, but primarily to equip our workforce for what are challenging and changing times,” he says.
“There is a place for different types of education. We need to value excellence in all forms and realise that while there may be different styles of universities across the sector, it is important that we all play to our strengths.
“I’m also a believer in the value of practical education. Choosing a path that doesn’t include university study should never be considered a failure – we need people with other perspectives on learning, and workers who can apply their intelligence practically.
“As a nation, though, we must put renewed effort into promoting science, technology, engineering and mathmatics (STEM). And that is not because we want everyone to be an engineer or a scientist.
“What STEM education builds is awareness and understanding of some of the key areas that will carry future industries forward.
“This is something we must improve if we are to compete in the 21st century. It is especially important that we encourage young women into STEM-focused education because we want to ensure the science and maths-based industries do not suffer from being dominated by one gender. There is great creativity inherent in diversity and
we need that more than ever.
“We also need to really strengthen the integration of universities and industry in Australia because it is in those connections that we will incubate true innovation.
“UniSA is good at making those connections; industry relevance, making improvements and finding solutions are in the DNA of our University and its antecedents.”
In the local higher education context, Dr Gould believes South Australia is very well served by its three State universities.
“Beyond the regular rumours and suggestions of mergers, we have three very good local universities, although they are quite distinct from each other,” Dr Gould says.
“None are failing or in crisis, there is simply no clear and present discontinuity to catalyse mergers. Instead, people should spend more time rejoicing in their collective success.
“That institutional strength – the fact that it underpins employment, research investment, industry innovation, a skilled workforce and international collaborations – is something we should be celebrating.”
He says UniSA’s success is in no small part due to its integrity of purpose.
“When I was being interviewed for this role I asked the panel a question about what their aspirations were for UniSA…did they want to move to become more like a sandstone institution…what were the projected goals,” he says.
“And I got the right answer. It was clear that the University had aspirations around improvement
but that there was core commitment to the elements
that make UniSA strong – equity, empowerment through education, experiential learning, industry-relevant research.
“The University has a strong brand and a good reputation. But perhaps most importantly in an organisational sense is that the staff are on board.”
He says all too often institutional values and mission statements exist statically in an organisation.
“At UniSA you feel our values, mission and goals are part of the day-to-day life of the University, much like guiding principles,” he says.
“And we haven’t tinkered with them too often. The sure sign of an organisation in trouble is one that is constantly reviewing its mission statement.
“We have also had the great benefit of three very capable and innovative Vice Chancellors in Professors Denise Bradley, Peter Høj and David Lloyd.
“They have all been quite different from each other and from the mould of the typical VC, but they have shared a passion to improve the University.
“At the same time they have respected and valued its history and its strengths.”
He says the great privilege of being Chancellor at a university, coincidentally enough, lies in what you learn.
“I have had a wide range of experiences – met brilliant researchers and inspiring students. I have shared the achievement of graduation day with thousands of students – that is perhaps the greatest honour of all.”