Invitation to Vice-Chancellor all-staff forum and updates from SEG

6 March 2014

Dear colleagues,

On 17 March I will discuss with Senate my priorities for 2014 - the key areas we must focus on to ensure we continue our progress towards the objectives in our strategic plan and to rediscover what it means for so large and disparate an organisation to be a single university.

I would like to invite you to an all-staff forum on Thursday 20 March where I can share those priorities with you, and provide you with an opportunity to ask questions about the year ahead. Seats are limited, so if you would like to attend please register now. We will video the forum, and post a report on the intranet shortly afterwards.

In the meantime, I would like to update you on the two meetings of SEG that took place in February, bringing together the deputy vice-chancellors, the Chair of the Academic Board, representation from all of the University's academic divisions (including faculty deans) and key administrators.

I have listed below some of the decisions and points discussed at the February meetings, but there are two areas I would like to cover in more depth.

Research and rankings strategy

At our 13 February meeting, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Jill Trewhella led a discussion about how we are drawing a number of current and proposed initiatives into a coordinated research strategy to enhance our research performance and position in key global university rankings. As I highlighted at November's staff forum, this is a core area of focus for 2014. There are two points I would like to highlight here.

First, while we share concerns expressed by some about the validity of elements of the various rankings systems, and our student enrolments show no evidence of impact from recent trends in relative ranking within Australia, we should recognise that the rankings systems are here to stay. Further, they are growing in significance in terms of how prospective staff and students, governments and funding bodies, and other important stakeholders perceive us. (Visit the Planning and Information Office website for more information about the main rankings systems.)

Second, as Professor Trewhella's paper makes clear, to maintain our position or rise in the rankings we must sustain and grow our research and education excellence. This, of course, is also at the heart of our strategic plan, but we must be careful to strike a balance between the pursuit of rankings success for its own sake and the pursuit of the richer and deeper research goals we have set ourselves.

For example, some of the rankings systems place little weight on disciplines where we are fortunate to have colleagues who are global leaders in their field, for example in areas such as the humanities and social sciences. Our work under the strategic plan to develop new thinking in how we design and deliver our curriculum, address educational disadvantage, and lift the scale and quality of our external engagement may do little directly to improve our rankings performance. Nevertheless, activities such as these are core to our mission to make a difference to Australia and the wider world, and are also important to government and other higher education funding bodies.

University digital strategy

Also on 13 February, SEG discussed a draft strategy document that sets out proposed initiatives to ensure that the work of our colleagues in ICT supports our priorities as an institution, in particular our research and teaching activities, as well as our ability to use technology to collaborate and share information across the University.

The discussion at SEG highlighted that this is a timely document; while we have made great strides in recent years to improve our ICT services (for example through vast improvements to our wifi connectivity), our ability to operate as a single institution is sometimes weakened by outdated infrastructure.

ICT are discussing the draft with colleagues across the University with a view to finalising the strategy in early April, and at the conclusion of our discussion, SEG highlighted the need for broad consultation to ensure user engagement and opportunity for input into further development of the strategy.

To find out more about the draft digital strategy or to feed into the consultation process, email ICT Engagement Manager Bhatrina Patel.

Other discussions and decisions at the February SEG meetings included the following:

27 February

  • SEG expressed broad support for the proposed structure and underlying principles for the portfolios of two new senior positions we are currently recruiting for: Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Registrar). Detailed implementation plans will be developed by the two deputy vice-chancellors once appointed.
  • The Provost updated SEG on the Sydney Student program, and we will share more information with you about this important project in coming weeks.
  • The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) provided an update on implementation of the Health and Medical Research Strategic Review (HMR Review), which as reported in Staff News of 21 February includes the appointment of Professor Michael Reid to chair a high-level steering committee.
  • SEG endorsed proposed revisions to the terms of reference for two new reference groups that will provide advice on the functioning of the University Economic Model (UEM), which we introduced in 2011 as the new framework for how financial resources are allocated within the University. The UEM has significantly increased transparency of our finances, and improved our ability to plan and understand the impact of decisions across the University. The new reference groups enable us to fine tune the UEM and ensure it is aligned with the strategic needs of the University as they evolve.
  • SEG approved discretionary capital budgets for faculties in 2014, as well as proposed steps to provide a longer-term transparent and coordinated framework for faculty capital budgeting from 2015 onwards.
  • SEG approved revised terms of reference for its Alumni, Development and Marketing Committee which better align the committee with the changes to marketing and communications services we introduced last year, and the recently restructured alumni and development team. We intend that the smaller membership of the committee will facilitate a focus on high-level strategy rather than operational matters.

SEG approved revised terms of reference for the Business Divisional Board, noting that the amendments principally arose from a review of the role and responsibilities of external members.

13 February

In addition to the discussion of the research/rankings strategy and the digital strategy discussed above:

  • SEG discussed the issue of research integrity training for higher degree by research (HDR) students, and endorsed the recommendation that deans require all HDR students to undertake training in responsible research, effective immediately (noting that the training will be administered by the Graduate Studies Office on behalf of faculties).
  • SEG received a report summarising media coverage of the University of Sydney and other Group of Eight universities in the final quarter of 2013. Sydney was the most frequently mentioned university, ahead of the University of Melbourne in second place.
  • SEG approved proposed amendments to the terms of reference for the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, which reflect the greater emphasis on divisional coordination around the University budget review process and budget transparency between the division's constituent faculties.

If you have any questions about any of the above, please email I am grateful to those of you who have provided feedback on the first of these updates from SEG, and your input helps us to improve communications such as these. I hope to see as many of you as possible on 20 March.

Dr Michael Spence

Vice-Chancellor and Principal