Summary: All-Staff Forum 28 September 2011

13 October 2011

64:06 minutesDownload video (mp4, 60.95 Mb)

This summary should be read in conjunction with the Lectopia recording of the event. The recording runs for 64 minutes and contains further detail not included below, particularly during questions from staff. Time codes for the Lectopia recording follow for each section for easy reference.

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Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal (Lectopia 00.00)

The Vice-Chancellor said he commonly heard two questions that reflect the current period of change: "when will the breathless change stop?" and "when will it start?". These two perspectives reflect that we are at a mid-point in the five-year journey of our strategic plan. Results from the strategic planning process are starting to flow through, but the benefits are yet to fully emerge in the day-to-day life of the University because they involve a huge amount of work.

The first phase of that journey has involved building our institutional infrastructure by:

  • ensuring teams at the centre of the University work better together
  • building an improved decision-making process through the Senior Executive Group (SEG) and its subcommittees
  • getting a rational 'resource allocation mechanism' (RAM) and budgets through the 'University Economic Model' (UEM)
  • improving our enterprise-wide information systems
  • implementing a strategy document for the University
  • increasing points of focus such via our divisional structure and other initiatives like the China Studies Centre and the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease (CODCD).

The next phase will require us to strive for improvement across the University, including by:

  • asking faculties/divisions to create faculty/divisional strategies
  • getting greater control of our finances, especially with regard to infrastructure investment
  • undertaking administrative reform to reduce complexity, duplication, costs, and to further understand our staffing profile
  • addressing academic underperformance and ensuring staff equity
  • improving our infrastructure planning.

The Vice-Chancellor concluded that the University was doing well, but needed to do better. He emphasised that remarkable things are attracting recognition across the University. To take just one metric: we had, at the time of the forum, received over $72 million in private philanthropy so far in 2011, the highest amount we have ever earned from private philanthropy. People are recognising that this University is on the move.


Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) (Lectopia 13.53)

Current priorities in the Research Portfolio include:

  • supporting the next round of grants submissions
  • responding to a wide range of government consultations
  • working on budgets for 2012.

Professor Trewhella said she and her team had recently met with all deans and associate deans (research) to discuss research strategies and tactics at a division and faculty level, as well as data and research development support.

Looking to 2012 she highlighted several themes as essential to the University's joined-up research strategy. These included:

  • diversifying research income sources beyond Australian Research Council (ARC) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) allocations by looking to industry, government, philanthropy and elsewhere
  • improving research quality and maximising the University's Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) results for 2012 and concomitant international ranking scales
  • improving research infrastructure.

Work is already happening to address these themes. Examples include the interdisciplinary Sydney Research Network Scheme (SYRENS), improved large grant application support, the integration of Sydnovate strategies, improving grant support and ethics administration, improved government submissions for our research agenda, a $500 million infrastructure investment for the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease (CODCD), the renewal of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and much more.


Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) (Lectopia 20.59)

Professor Houston, a Gangulu man from central Queensland with extensive experience at senior levels of government and in the community, opened by saying this was "week 23" for him at the University. During that time he has focused on getting to know the University community. He shared a few key observations, including the following.

  • There are surprises in our midst. These include the success rate of our Indigenous students and the presence of Aboriginal students in what many would have considered to be the non-traditional disciplines like engineering and veterinary sciences.
  • Some areas do not surprise. For example we have too few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff, both in the academic and professional streams, and there is insufficient coordination between our community engagement efforts.

Professor Houston said there is an appetite in the University community for staff and students to get engaged in debate and the development of an integrated strategy. A draft implementation plan is scheduled to go to SEG on 27 October and has a number of key themes, including:

  • successful students
  • our peoples
  • society and leadership
  • gender
  • business and built infrastructure
  • research and knowledge systems.


Professor Ann Brewer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Management) (Lectopia 28.52)
Professor Brewer spoke about three issues: quality assurance, the Work Slate and the services review.

Quality assurance

  • Preparation for the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) visit saw approximately 450 staff share information about what was working well and not so well in their areas.
  • The AUQA review panel saw the phenomenal work going on at all levels when it visited.
  • We had a very good AUQA report in 2004 and it will be interesting to see the outcome this time.
  • Issues raised in 2004 included a lack of engagement and implementation of our then strategic plan, the lack of a risk management framework and issues with our information systems. Significant work has been done since thanks to the hard work of staff (examples include the introduction of our strategic plan and a risk management framework).

University Work Slate

  • Includes a number of University-wide projects linked to our current strategic initiatives that are managed by project leads throughout the University.
  • There were 130 projects at commencement; approximately one-third are complete. These include the review of our ethics framework, the introduction of a University-wide complaints handling system and a travel plan.

The services review

  • A recent staff survey has provided statistics to help us better understand who is doing what, where and how. The survey collected information about 12 functional areas, with 128 categories within that.
  • Approximately 50 percent of the 607 respondents not able to be classified were faculty-based, with the remaining 50 percent based in the professional service units.
  • Further work is being done with faculty managers, services directors, and their teams to improve our understanding of the results and the kind of services we need in the future.


Question 1: A lot of people have had concerns about the decline in international fee-paying students. There are several reasons for that, some beyond our control, like the Australian dollar. To what extent are we hopeful that the Knight review might restore those numbers and therefore our income? (Lectopia 35.57)

The Vice-Chancellor's response included the following points.

  • This is a complex issue - for example, we haven't seen a collapse in some core markets and China numbers are growing ¬≠while there has been a decline in study aboard. Some numbers have grown in key categories (eg international PhD students) while things like the American student visiting programs have reduced.
  • There has been an overall decline, and there will be an impact in 2012, but not as significant as at other universities. We have been doing lots of work in the last 18 months to offset these issues, including more focussed work in recruitment and with agents.
  • The expectation is that the Knight review will make a difference. We can't do much about the impact of the strong Australian dollar, except that we have put significantly more money into scholarships.
  • We are confident we will hold market share and even improve, but our ultimate aim is to diversify.

Question 2: I participated in the professional services survey. I have concerns over the quality of data because I had 24 hours to complete the survey covering 130 staff, so am concerned the numbers might be a bit skewed. (Lectopia 38.48)

The Vice-Chancellor's response included the following points.

  • There is a balance when doing these surveys between ensuring quality data and the speed with which it needs to be gathered.
  • As discussed by Professor Brewer we are now doing lots of work to make sure we have an accurate understanding of the data. Contact her office to discuss further.
  • Overall the survey is enabling us to have initial conversations with people on how to improve things.

Question 3: You know how I asked you about the attendants? The email that I sent you, number two, was hearsay... With the attendants, 'cause it's all hearsay, I don't see why it's logical that they should be in kiosks around the campus and not in our buildings. (Lectopia 40.01)

The Vice-Chancellor's response included the following points.

  • There is a Campus Infrastructure and Services (CIS) plan ('Campus Assist') to bring together different kinds of help on campus - part of the point is to spread help more evenly around campus and make it more visible to students.
  • The intention is for these centres to provide information and guidance traditionally offered by building attendants and act as points of contact for other University services.
  • Feedback from the questioner will be passed to CIS.

Question 4: If we were to fast-forward five years and your strategy has been well implemented, and I was here interviewing you, what would the success measure of the University be, how would it look, and why as a student would I choose to come and study here? (Lectopia 41.50)

The Vice-Chancellor's response included the following points.

  • We would be living up to our original mission to make a difference by providing an education regardless of background. So we would be identifiable as a place that is making a difference in some of the key questions that challenge our society.
  • We would be identified by our peers (as we already are) for our research excellence.
  • Students would further report that they were engaging in education that stretched their capacity in critical thinking and communication.
  • We would be able to demonstrate to the taxpayer, staff and students that we were putting all our money into these aims, and not just recycling it through complex processes.

There are signs that we can, do and will deliver on these things, and that would be an achievement to complete. It is within our collective grasp.

Question 5: Question to the whole central team: could you tell us what you learned from the AUQA process that you didn't know before the process started? I don't just mean from the report they gave, but also the information gathering that went into it. (Lectopia 46.07)

The responses of the Vice-Chancellor and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Management) included the following points.

  • What the AUQA panel fed back to us was that staff understood the strategic process, what we were trying to do and - even when they disagreed - why we were trying to do it.
  • It provided an opportunity for the learning process - the central team learned about what's happening in particular faculties, or things that might be hidden to us, and staff learned from each other about why things are being done.
  • Staff felt that there could be more communication and understand further about why we are doing things.
  • Some staff feel that so much change is happening, and others not enough, and it's the polar differences between those that we have to deal with.

Question 6: What role do you see social media having in the University in five years? Will there be apps for visitors who walk through to get the history of the University? Will we use it for communicating to staff and students? Will students look at their timetable, or even enrol in that way? (Lectopia 50.25)

The Vice-Chancellor's response included the following points.

  • It will be interesting to see what the next generation wants from social media and what they want from the University. Initial feedback suggests people want the virtual and the real - we need to balance these needs and that is difficult - our investment in new teaching spaces has begun to experiment with these combinations and we feel that is the right way to go.
  • We need to be true to ourselves, our traditions of learning, our tradition of face-to-face interaction, while at same time make sure we develop our presence in the digital world.

Question 7: One of the things that keeps popping up is this idea of increasing research excellence, of making the average researcher do better at the University… how are you going to make the research better at this University? (Lectopia 54.18)

The Vice-Chancellor's response included the following points.

  • Our strategies are about this institution turning its focus on people's research. Experience from the UK shows that when an institution does that, the performance of existing researchers lifts. Parts of the University support researchers well, but collectively the University has been rather genteel as to whether a researcher should or should not write something and has not assisted in terms of guidance about what to write, where to publish, how to find support, where to find funding, etc.
  • A small number of people are neither teaching nor researching and that has to be addressed because that has a financial impact and is unfair on their peers. People will be given a chance to 'up their game' and participate.
  • SEG is discussing minimum standards of academic performance, and how they may vary across disciplines. This whole issue takes time because we are a community of discourse and we are involved in a significant culture shift in this space. We need to ensure that it's done right and it's fair, and that when it comes to implementation we're doing it well.

Question 8: What do you think of the university rankings in 2011? (Lectopia 61.36)

The Vice-Chancellor's response included the following points.

  • Rankings are important for a number of reasons: international students, the recruitment of academic staff, and philanthropy.
  • However there are issues with rankings, and the results can be skewed by Nobel prize winners and other indicators. We have maintained our status, while others have gone up.
  • Better indicators of the quality of our research (like ERA) have demonstrated that we have real issues to address in this area. This forms part of the reason why we are changing the way we undertake performance management and development for academic staff and also focussing on research as an integral part of working at this University.