Chapter 3 – Engaged enquiry: integrated education and research


Architecture students William Chan and Amalia Mayor pictured with Associate Professor Anna Rubbo

Building on the value of engaged enquiry that we know to be so strong at the University, we have a clear vision for education and research. The University of Sydney is, and should be, a place where education and research are held as closely together as possible, where all students and staff are both learners and researchers. It is, and should be, a place where there are plentiful opportunities to connect our work to the needs and insights of the local, national, regional and international communities that the University serves.

Society’s fundamental research questions are complex and multi-faceted. They are best addressed by communities of staff and students coming together both within, and across, cognate disciplines, working in different combinations as questions evolve, and undertaking shared research and teaching. To do this effectively, we must give our students and researchers freedom to pursue any line of enquiry. But we must also be able effectively to identify our research strengths and to bring those research strengths, and emerging areas of work, together with the national research priorities and the needs of our region. And we must provide appropriate support for all researchers, not least in our digital and physical infrastructure.

Similarly, our society’s challenges require that we produce flexible and creative thinkers and not simply graduates ready for today’s workplace. An education at the University should equip students with core skills in critical thinking and communication, and foster an enquiring mind. It should be research-enriched, both in the narrow sense that our teaching should be informed by the latest research and, more deeply, in the sense that learning about, and learning through, enquiry is at the heart of the student’s experience. Students should be given as much opportunity as possible for community engagement and cross-disciplinary interaction. They should be given ample scope for community-based learning both elsewhere in Australia and overseas. In addition, both our staff and students regard the educational offering of the University as consisting, not simply of its formal curricula, but also of the co-curricular experiences that are, and should to a greater degree be, available to our students.

Finally, as the University exists to serve the needs of our students and society in a partnership of knowledge discovery, our approach to engaging with the community must embrace the most able students from any area of our society. Social inclusion is an imperative, and we commit to finding the most promising students to join us whatever their social or cultural background. We should also be actively engaged in research into issues of social inclusion and exclusion, both to inform our own practice and to make a contribution to the national debate in these areas.

In short, the purpose and values upon which this strategy is built make the University of Sydney the Australian model of a successful 21st-century research-intensive university, reworking the 19th-century Humboldtian vision upon which the University was founded for a new time and a new context.

Strategy Three: Initiate a University-wide program of curriculum renewal

Our first strategy for a program of integrated education and research focuses upon curriculum renewal. Of course, we are constantly engaged in curriculum renewal and several faculties have recently reviewed the curricula of their major degrees. In many parts of the University there is considerable expertise in curriculum development. But the consultation around the Green Paper revealed that staff and students are ready for a University-wide conversation about the principles upon which the institution as a whole builds its educational offerings, about the distinctive nature of a Sydney education. It also revealed concerns about the coherence of our range of programs, particularly our major undergraduate generalist degrees, and the ways in which they intersect (not least across faculties) to provide an excellent student experience. We are also keen to see students’ transition to university better handled, particularly if we are to widen access. Finally, consultation revealed that the concept of research-enriched learning had deep resonance with the educational aims of the University.

We therefore believe that we must initiate a University-wide program of curriculum renewal. The Curriculum Committee of SEG will have oversight of this process, informed by a program of wider consultation. The committee will take on the work of the current Course Profile Steering Committee in assessing the case for any new course, but more broadly it should also work to ensure the coherence of our existing program of courses and address issues of overlap and duplication in our current offerings. In doing so, it should make certain that the graduate attributes agreed by the Academic Board and outlined in the Green Paper are realised in our degrees, and that they remain powerful in shaping a distinctive Sydney education. The work of this committee is closely related to the wider work of the Education and Research Training Committee and the divisional boards, and so it is proposed that it be co-chaired by the Provost and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education).

The first review to be conducted by the Curriculum Committee should be of our principal undergraduate generalist degrees. This is a core strategic initiative for the planning period and meets the purposes for which we had originally proposed a College of Arts and Sciences. In that review, we believe that the committee should pay particular attention to the first-year experience given widespread concerns about transition to University. The review will also give the University the opportunity to think through, at a University-wide level, the ways in which the graduate attributes are realised for a great number of its undergraduate students.

In considering our students’ experiences of teaching and learning in the curriculum, the Curriculum Committee and Academic Board also need to articulate the teaching and learning experiences, and outcomes, that distinguish different degree levels and pathways through degrees at Sydney. We must develop a pedagogically sound framework that will support the development and approval of future degree proposals and inform the renewal process.

Finally, we must finish the work on standards and assessment begun by the Academic Board in 2009. The implementation of the principles adopted in that work (those of standards-based assessment in units of study) will now proceed. Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) requirements underscore our need to develop systems to demonstrate the quality of standards at degree level. While there are many different assessment tasks that can be used in discipline communities, the University will need to focus on a key set of processes by which the standards applied to assessment are monitored and benchmarked. These processes are likely to include such things as the use of external examiners, peer review, discipline benchmark standards and professional accreditation.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

3(a) Establish a Curriculum Committee of SEG to oversee a University-wide program of curriculum renewal and ensure coherence of our programs and courses.

3(b) Develop University-wide principles for curriculum development.

3(c) Conduct a fundamental review of the major undergraduate generalist degree programs.

3(d) Articulate the standards and outcomes of teaching and learning experiences that distinguish different degree levels and pathways through degrees.

3(e) Implement the assessment principles flowing from the Academic Board review, begun in 2009.

3(f) Identify and empower scholars with expertise in curriculum development to champion curriculum renewal and best practice across the University.

3(g) Recognise and reward staff contribution to curriculum renewal and innovation.


Strategy Four: Enrich the experience of University life for all our students

The University is committed to providing a supportive, responsive, and engaging student experience. Outside our formal learning contexts this entails: diverse opportunities for participation in campus life; opportunities for work experience; appropriate student support services; efficient and helpful student administrative systems; and attractive and functional social and learning spaces. Our consistent claim is that we provide the ‘richest and most comprehensive experience of student life of any university in Australia’, and we have strong evidence to suggest that, at least as regards co-curricular activity, our claim is justified. Nevertheless, we believe that enhancing the student experience should be a key University priority during the period of the Strategic Plan.

As regards opportunities for participation in campus life, we have recently commissioned and received the report of a Review of the Student Co-curricular Experience. Opportunities for participation in student life at the University, most notably through the work of the University of Sydney Union and Sydney University Sport and Fitness, are impressive in their quality and range. Nevertheless, the review, while affirming the quality of our work in this area, also found that not all students feel able to participate fully in the rich and diverse student life programs currently on offer. Many feel that they lack confidence, time or resources to participate. Others feel that all of their energies need to be directed to mastering course content, or are required to work outside of University to meet basic life and study costs. But the quality of the student experience is core to our mission as an institution and something that we are committed to enhancing. It is, moreover, something that is increasingly used by both prospective students and governments as a measure of the quality of the educational experience offered by a university. We must, therefore, develop ways to ensure even higher levels of participation, and the review made recommendations that we will develop and implement. In addition, we believe that new structures for increasing our students’ sense of participation in multiple communities on the campus need to be explored and the concept of ‘virtual colleges’ outlined in the Green Paper received much positive comment in the consultation process.

In the area of work experience, we have been expanding the range of opportunities for students to engage with potential employers and participate in the workforce, both as a part of our formal programs and outside them. This is again work on which we intend to build during the planning period and the activities of Sydney Talent are one way in which this can be taken forward.

Student support at the University involves a wide range of services and initiatives. We have recently commissioned and received the reports of a Review of Indigenous Education, discussed under Strategy Ten, and a Review of Support for International Students. Again, we intend to develop and implement the recommendations of these reports during the planning period. In addition, the stronger coordination of our various services for student health, wellbeing and welfare has been recognised as an important priority to be addressed during the planning period, as has investment in the implementation of our Disability Action Plan 2011–2015.

Similarly, we are currently engaged in the largest reorganisation of student administration ever undertaken at the University, which aims to simplify and give students more control over the management of their relationship with the University, not least online, and to create a seamless experience from first enquiry through to alumni engagement. This is the Student Lifecycle Management program. This project is clearly one of the most important that the University will undertake during the planning period. It has the capacity dramatically to improve the quality of our students’ experience of the University. It is crucial that it is delivered during the planning period and that support for the completion of the project becomes a priority at every level of the University.

Finally, an important part of enhancing the student experience relates to physical infrastructure. Thus we are undertaking a government-funded project to develop a network of informal learning spaces on the Camperdown/Darlington Campus that, among other outcomes, will meet both the informal learning and social needs of students. This is part of a broader strategy for improving the quality of learning and social spaces on this campus. Following our in-principle agreement with the University of Sydney Union, we will be finalising new arrangements for the future provision of food and beverage facilities on that campus. Similarly, we have a Work Slate project to scope opportunities for increasing the levels of available student accommodation to as many as 6000 beds. This aspirational target will not only meet the pressing accommodation needs of many of our rural and international students, but increasing the number of students living on, or near to, the Camperdown/Darlington Campus will contribute to the vibrancy of student life.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

4(a) Review and develop the University's provision of services for student health, wellbeing and welfare.

4(b) Support universal access by investing in implementation of the Disability Action Plan 2011–2015, including the allocation of disability officers and ongoing training for staff.

4(c) Provide more affordable and appropriate student accommodation on and near the University’s campuses, consistent with the Work Slate project on student accommodation.

4(d) Undertake a feasibility study of the virtual colleges.

4(e) Build upon the current Teaching and Learning Capital Fund project regarding networks of informal learning spaces around campus.

4(f) Complete the Sydney Student Lifecycle Management project to create a seamless student experience of the University’s administration, from first enquiry to alumni engagement.

4(g) Prioritise and implement the recommendations of the University Review of Co-curricular Experience to increase the effectiveness and relevance of our co-curricular programs.

4(h) Prioritise and implement the recommendations of the University Review of Support for International Students.

4(i) Complete the Work Slate projects on social and catering facilities.

Other relevant initiatives are:

5(a) Build on international exchange opportunities to develop global citizens.

5(b) Finalise the implementation of the Second Language Acquisition Project.

10(a) Develop and implement clear strategies in response to the recommendations of the Review of Indigenous Education.


Strategy Five: Expand and diversify opportunities for students to develop as global citizens

A commitment to the internationalisation of the University should run through all we do, from education and research, to alumni and community engagement. Crucially we must address the issue of helping students to develop as global citizens. In large part, we must address that issue in the process of curriculum renewal outlined in Strategy Three. But we must also create more opportunities for our students to spend time outside Australia, and ensure that staff and students who come to the University from overseas find an environment which values the contribution that they can make and is sensitive to issues of cultural difference.

To develop opportunities for our students to engage in research and education overseas means, at least, that greater participation in exchange programs is encouraged. The take-up of exchange places has been surprisingly low and so, as a Work Slate project, the University has recently completed a review of the barriers to participation in international exchanges that face domestic students – the Overseas Student Programs Strategy. Among other things, the review pointed out that students face significant financial barriers to participation in such programs, and that our total commitment to exchange scholarships is around the lowest of any Australian research-intensive institution. A focus of activity during this planning phase is the expansion and diversification of our international exchange opportunities. The completion of the University Second Language Acquisition project referred to in Strategy Four also has an important role to play in this regard.

The development of the University as a truly international environment begins with the need to design and share on a University-wide basis appropriate pedagogical strategies for international students in the way proposed in Strategy Seven. But it also requires that we facilitate the coming to Australia of a wider diversity of international students, not only for study leading to degrees, but also on exchange and study abroad programs. In responses to the Green Paper, many argued that our current provision of scholarship support for all types of international students is inadequate, and increasing the number of such scholarships is important if we are to compete for the most able students. In addition, the internationalisation of the University means making it easier for overseas scholars to spend more time in Australia, both as a part of our World Fellows Program and also on fractional academic appointments for staff whose primary position is in overseas universities. This approach has been successfully adopted in, for example, the United States Studies Centre, and is being explored in the Work Slate project Appointments for Overseas Academics. Increased interaction with teachers and researchers from overseas will undoubtedly broaden the outlook of our students.

In order to achieve this strategy, we will:

5(a) Build on international exchange opportunities for our students and international experience for our staff.

5(b) Finalise the implementation of the Second Language Acquisition project.

5(c) Expand the number of World Scholars Program scholarships to attract the best PhD students from priority countries.

5(d) Introduce a World Fellows Program for short-term visits by leading international academics and public figures.

5(e) Complete and implement the project on Appointments for Overseas Academics to facilitate the fractional appointment of academic staff also employed at an overseas university.

5(f) Pursue new funding opportunities to build capacity for international engagement and exchange.


Strategy Six: Develop our capacity to identify and support research excellence

The University of Sydney has a long history of excellent research. This tradition is built upon strong disciplines supported by faculties and schools, commitment to both rigour and depth in research and research training, and appropriate peer review.

However, respondents to the Green Paper acknowledged that the fundamental changes taking place in the research environment, both in Australia and internationally, require new approaches to achieving and sustaining a University-wide vision for research excellence. In particular, it was recognised that a more strategic focus is needed for our investment in disciplinary and cross-disciplinary work to attract, enable and empower researchers in better-resourced and well-maintained environments. Many stressed the need to protect the freedom that our researchers have to pursue whatever lines of enquiry they might choose, and to provide a base level of support for all research-active staff. There can be no doubt that a commitment to this freedom of enquiry is crucial. But few doubted that the University needed to be more strategic in its investment in research, recognising that there is already a significant level of such investment through the Research portfolio.

In particular, there was strong support for embedding the principle of ‘research excellence’ in all we do, with an understanding that different disciplines must be evaluated by appropriate and distinct criteria. The measure of excellence for all research, however, must be evidence-based and benchmarked against international standards.

In order to achieve our vision we will collectively develop and implement an integrated and coherent University-wide approach to planning, delivering, managing and funding our research in a way that demonstrably supports researchers doing internationally recognised cutting-edge research.

Our approach will be based on the principle that research leadership resides within the faculties and divisions, where the expertise and experience lies to identify and support our existing and emerging areas of research strength. In this way, accountability for research development is held strongly within the disciplines, while the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) has responsibility for delivering a sustainable platform to support the SEG-agreed research strategy.

There are five aspects of this more coordinated approach to research. First, we propose that the new divisional boards should be asked to develop strategic plans for research in their initial strategic planning. These would form the basis for each division to agree with SEG a compact regarding arrangements for developing, sustaining and enhancing research activities that align with the University’s strategic directions and the national research priorities. The plans would identify: areas of research strength or key emerging areas for focused investment within and across divisions; how best to identify, develop and support researchers both within the division and across divisional boundaries; and what organisational structures are in place or are needed to support and extend critical research capabilities. Based on these plans, SEG could identify whether the faculties themselves could meet these needs, or whether a case needed to be made to SEG for University-wide support.

Second, the University should develop an evidence-based capacity for identifying areas of research strength and for recording the University’s research outputs. This will require us to complete and implement the recommendations of our current review of the University’s ICT capability for a consistent, well-maintained, comprehensive system for research management, including data capture, storage and analysis, based on an integrated ‘end-to-end’ University-wide view of our research processes. Only in this way will we be able to make evidence-based claims about the strength of our work in particular areas, and identify those areas that can benefit from support.

Third, a more coordinated approach to research will inevitably require that we establish a University strategic research fund to support cross-disciplinary and cross-unit collaborative research initiatives and programs, seed new developments, and support research programs in line with agreed research strategies. Some of the money for this research fund will be monies currently distributed through the Research portfolio, but the size of the fund would need to be determined from time to time by SEG as budgetary constraints allowed.

Fourth, in collaboration with the Academic Board, we need systematically to review and develop SEG-agreed University research policies as a coherent framework to support research excellence. For example, work is already underway to develop policies and standard procedures for a range of research activities subject to government regulation (such as clinical trials). Similarly, as regards contract research, we are working on a policy framework for research agreements and contracts that can be used as a basis for negotiation and implemented in template agreements. Our intellectual property rule is scheduled for review in 2010, following recent developments in the relevant case law.

Finally, we must ensure the research strategy is enabled by infrastructure planning, and that the digital and physical infrastructure identified as necessary to support strategic research activities are supported through the divisional and SEG compacts. For example, a major infrastructure initiative to support research excellence in the planning period is the building of a $110 million facility for nanoscience research with significant federal government support.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

6(a) Develop divisional research strategies and negotiate compacts with SEG for endorsement, and, where necessary, support of these strategies.

6(b) Develop the capacity for comprehensive recording of University research outputs and for the evidence-based identification of areas of research strength.

6(c)Establish a University-wide research fund to allow strategic investment in identified areas of research.

6(d) Apply divisional and University research strategies in the ongoing assessment of our infrastructure needs and priorities.

6(e) Establish a program for the systematic review and development of University research policies in collaboration between SEG and the Academic Board.

6(f) Complete the construction of the Australian Institute for Nanoscience.


Strategy Seven: Develop our capacity to identify and promulgate excellence in teaching

In many parts of the University, our academic staff are engaged in developing and using cutting-edge pedagogical practice and, as reported in the Student Course Experience Questionnaire (SCEQ), levels of student satisfaction with teaching are high. Nevertheless, much of that good practice remains only locally disseminated, with few mechanisms for promulgating it across the institution as a whole. Arrangements for teaching and learning support and development are varied across the institution, with some faculties enjoying much higher levels of support and development than others, and the support provided on a University-wide level is not always well integrated with local initiatives and needs.

In our Green Paper consultations, the University community endorsed a stronger institutional commitment to teaching and learning and to increasing the support that we offer to the development of pedagogical best practice. Given the quality of the work that is going on, and the need for teaching and learning support and development to meet local needs and disciplinary variations, we do not believe that the commitment requires the creation of larger University-wide support units. It does, however, involve the development of a University-wide teaching excellence strategy to provide institutional coherence in how we build the capacity of individual teachers, as well as fostering the development and capacity of teaching teams and communities in degree programs, schools and faculties.

This teaching and learning excellence strategy will be developed in much the same way as our research excellence strategy outlined in the previous section. That is, the divisions will design strategies for teaching and learning support that share the best of local practice and negotiate arrangements for support from University-wide services such as the Institute for Teaching and Learning, Sydney eLearning and the Learning Centres. SEG will agree compacts with each division regarding arrangements for developing, sustaining and enhancing teaching and learning support, including formal training. It will also agree minimum standards for that support throughout the University and further develop the University’s evidence-based capacity for identifying teaching and learning strengths. In addition, SEG should agree with the divisions what, if any, learning and teaching resources should be developed on a University-wide basis, for example to meet the needs of particular groups of students such as international students.

While much in this strategy will be building upon existing good practice, it is important to recognise that, by establishing new University-wide standards for resourcing and coordination of teaching and learning support and development, it will give us a new focus on the quality of our teaching and provide a stronger institutional voice to the many staff who have been achieving really innovative things in teaching and learning development. A part of our work will be to develop a network of these ‘champions’ for good teaching, and to give their work greater institutional exposure.

As with our research strategy, a systematic program, agreed with the Academic Board, for the review and development of our education policies is essential, as is applying our teaching and learning strategies in our digital and physical infrastructure planning. Modern approaches to enquiry-based education require learning spaces that inextricably entwines the student experience across formal physical spaces with their virtual learning space. Student expectations of University infrastructure must also shape the provision of informal learning space. Important work in digital and physical infrastructure planning is the federal government co-funded project on formal, informal and virtual learning spaces (lecture theatres, libraries, learning hubs, learning management systems and ePortfolios), which is already underway. A transformative infrastructure project during the planning period is the construction of a new Business School building, known as the Abercrombie Precinct, a project that will replace substandard facilities with ones more appropriate to this vital part of the University’s work.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

7(a) Develop divisional teaching excellence strategies and negotiate compacts with SEG for endorsement, and, where necessary, support of these strategies.

7(b) Develop new tools for identifying teaching and learning strengths to inform divisional strategies and support the promulgation of best practice.

7(c) Establish University-agreed minimum standards for teaching and learning support as appropriate to each faculty.

7(d) Apply divisional and University teaching excellence strategies in the ongoing assessment of our infrastructure needs and priorities.

7(e) Complete the Learning Space Network Project.

7(f) Establish a program for the systematic review and development of University education policies in collaboration between SEG and the Academic Board.

7(g) Complete the Abercrombie Precinct infrastructure project.


Strategy Eight: Develop a small number of major cross-disciplinary initiatives in research and education

In the Green Paper we outlined the case for establishing and maintaining a small number of University-wide, and University-supported, cross-disciplinary initiatives in both research and education. We argued that the University’s ability to have visible impact in thematic areas of importance for our nation, region and beyond depended upon our ability to harness, from across the University, the intellectual resources relevant to a particular complex problem and to provide structures for cross-disciplinary research and education at the University level.

In responses to the Green Paper, there was support for proposals to develop critical mass in a small number of cross-disciplinary areas, subject to two provisos: that any decisions on resource allocation are made on the basis of transparent and equitable processes; and that balance is maintained in research support for the disciplines, small teams, and individual researchers, recognising that different disciplines require different research environments.

To some extent this is already a strategy of the University as several institutes and centres established under the current Centres Policy are clearly governed by more than one faculty. But our experience as an institution in building and sustaining large-scale cross-disciplinary programs in education and research has been limited. Rather there has been a proliferation of University centres and institutes established, in recent years under the University’s Centres Policy, with considerable research strength in some, but often without a clear understanding of how the establishment of a centre or institute helps further the work of the individual academics or teams of academics involved.

With its commitment to establishing the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease, the University has embarked on its largest ever project of this type, one that will bring together a range of activities from the humanities and social sciences, the natural and medical sciences, and clinical research. The centre will be housed in a new $390 million facility and must clearly demonstrate the University’s ability collectively to muster its intellectual resources around a pressing national and international issue. This project, involving collaboration not only between units within the University, but also with others from outside the institution, is a major priority during the planning period and its successful establishment will be a landmark in the University’s history.

Similarly, SEG agreed in 2009 that the University should draw together some of its work in area studies in the establishment of centres for the study of China and South-East Asia and implement the recommendations of the Review of Area Studies. In doing so, it adds to the success of the United States Studies Centre, established in 2007. Work on the China and South-East Asia centres is at a less developed stage than that for the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease, but needs to be realised during the planning period.

Work is also being undertaken in 2010 on the ongoing viability of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions and a decision needs to be taken in the second half of 2010 as to the best organisational arrangements for the University’s work in sustainability. The institute is preparing an options paper as a basis for this discussion.

Finally, we propose that during the planning period we should assess the feasibility of as many as two new University-wide research and education initiatives. These would need to have high social impact, build on the University’s capacity for cross-disciplinary research and education in the relevant area and have longevity of at least 20 to 25 years.

In considering the possibility of such University-wide efforts, many respondents in the consultation process also stressed that our approach to these large-scale research and education programs should involve not only our intellectual life, but also our collective practice. That is, just as the Institute for Sustainable Solutions was established in parallel with the University’s Triple Bottom Line Project and a renewed emphasis on the sustainability of our management practices, so too the establishment of the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease should influence areas of our collective life as diverse as the food that is available on our campuses and our travel policy.

In order to implement a coherent strategy for the development of University-wide initiatives in research and education, we must continue to operate the existing Centres Policy and to encourage the promotion of cross-disciplinary work at all levels, not least because such activity is often the seedbed out of which larger projects grow. In addition, we need to remove some of the existing financial and institutional barriers to cross-disciplinary collaboration discussed in the Green Paper, particularly around research training. But we also need to develop the work that we have been doing for the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease in creating appropriate governance and financial arrangements for the large-scale and University-wide initiatives that we believe should be created during the planning period.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

8(a) Establish the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease as an exemplar of a major program of cross-disciplinary research and education in an area of high social impact.

8(b) Develop governance and financial arrangements for University-wide research and education programs based on the lessons learned from the establishment of the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.

8(c)Develop criteria and processes to identify, support and maintain strategic and University-supported research and education initiatives.

8(d) Evaluate existing University-wide and University-supported research and education projects, including the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and refine and strengthen the University Centres Policy.

8(e) Establish University-wide centres for education and research on China and South-East Asia Studies as recommended in the Review of Area Studies, and implement the other recommendations of that review.

8(f) Determine the feasibility of up to two new major cross-disciplinary programs of research and education.

8(g)Create for each major cross-disciplinary program of research and education a strategy for implementation in the University community which embodies and exemplifies the program’s core purpose in our institutional life.


Strategy Nine: Agree coordinated strategies for identifying, developing and supporting research talent from undergraduate students to research leaders

Core to our academic vision is the idea that there should be a seamlessness between our teaching and our research, at least in that each is driven by engaged enquiry. We need a coherent approach to researcher development from our undergraduate programs through to the support that we provide for senior researchers.

One part of this is comprised of our initiatives in research-enhanced learning, which is central to our education strategies. We must see all students as researchers of one kind or another as we engage in both curriculum renewal and the dissemination of good pedagogical practice. But another part is our work in providing researcher support and development. In the Green Paper, our primary initiatives for enhancing researcher support involved increasing the coherence and coordination of existing support schemes, and the review of our structures for postgraduate research training, particularly the PhD.

As to the former, identifying, developing and supporting talented researchers at all stages of their career is, and should be, principally the responsibility of individual academic units. But while we do much on this front at both a faculty and a University-wide level, our efforts are fragmented in ways not always justified by disciplinary specificity. The extent and quality of offerings varies markedly across the University and the career span of researchers. Again the problem is one of ensuring that our investment in this area at a local and a University-wide level is well coordinated, dovetails with the national schemes, and delivers an effective and coherent system of support.

Responses to the proposals in the Green Paper indicated strong support for the development of University-wide processes and systems for researcher support and development. Many noted the need for formal mentoring programs, especially for early career researchers, and for the provision of support for the gap between early and mid-career external support. Particular difficulties were also noted in the availability of training for students and research staff located off the Camperdown/Darlington Campus. Consequently, it is important that services and programs are effectively and evenly delivered and accessible across all research sites, including the remote campuses and other facilities where the University conducts research.

We propose that SEG should undertake a program for the review and renewal of our systems of researcher support, and that it should do so with an eye to each stage of researcher development, from the undergraduate to the senior researcher. Once again we propose that this program should be conducted in close cooperation with the divisions. Ideally, the program should address itself not only to the technical disciplinary training of researchers, but also to more general training in research leadership and management, in skills in commercialisation and communication, and in developing cross-disciplinary research.

As to the issue of research training, and particularly the PhD, the proposals in the Green Paper attracted wide comment in the consultation process. Responses indicated strong support for the retention of a variety of pathways as preparation for a PhD (including Honours and Master’s programs); for the development of a four-year PhD (with appropriate recognition for the different requirements of some disciplines, such as Medicine); and better oversight of the quality of supervision during research training. The proposals in the Green Paper around the four-year PhD, and the development of the work of the University Graduate Office should be seen as priorities in the early stages of the planning period. In this way we can build upon the work that has already been done to implement the recommendations of the University Review of the PhD undertaken in 2009.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

9(a) Embed discovery-based learning in all curricula, with opportunities for research experience appropriate to discipline and level.

9(b) Develop coordinated faculty, divisional and University-wide programs for researcher induction, and for research training and mentoring at all career stages.

9(c) Extend the standard full-time duration of the PhD program to four years to provide scope for broadening methodological and generic skills training, where appropriate.

9(d) Develop clearer pathways to the PhD from Honours and alternate prior programs.

9(e) Establish discipline-specific guidelines and training for supervisors, including provision for co-supervisors.

9(f) Charge the Graduate Office with enhanced responsibility for candidate administration, monitoring of consistency of practice and policy, and procedural development across the University.

9(g) Develop a more transparent model for the allocation of income from research students, consistent with the University Economic Model.

9(h) Develop programs to extend the leadership skills of researchers heading major research initiatives.


Strategy Ten: Promote Indigenous participation, engagement, education and research

The University is committed to the idea that Indigenous participation should be embedded as an essential and prominent part of its overall mission; that the voice of our Indigenous staff and students is heard at all levels of University decision-making; that we enjoy strong relationships with local and regional Indigenous communities; that we actively promote Reconciliation; and that we are the university of choice for both Indigenous students and researchers. We currently provide pathways and support for Indigenous students to access higher education, particularly through the Koori Centre and Yooroang Garang Indigenous Student Support Unit, and have a record of research and engagement in issues affecting Indigenous people, not least Indigenous health and education.

In order to enhance our approach to Indigenous participation, engagement, education and research, the University commissioned an independent Review of Indigenous Education that was completed in August 2009. The review panel made 46 recommendations designed to take our activities in these areas to a new level by embedding Indigenous issues and knowledge as core parts of its decision-making, teaching, research and community engagement. A response to the review has been delayed, partly by the broader strategic planning process, which has been happening in parallel, and the outcomes of which must have a bearing on key recommendations made by the review. The University has already agreed 25 of the recommendations of the review and these are proceeding to implementation.

A working group of SEG has been constituted to address these issues in light of the consultations that have taken place as part of the strategic planning process. These consultations revealed a strong commitment throughout the University to enhancing our approach to Indigenous participation and to ensuring that our Indigenous engagement, education and research strategies are clear, well supported and more fully realised. The working group will therefore advise SEG on the development and detailed implementation of the remaining recommendations of the Review of Indigenous Education. In addition, the Nominations Committee of Senate is considering those aspects of the review that touch directly upon the work of Senate. In the meantime, we are proceeding to build links with local and regional Indigenous communities under our approach to developing partnerships with local and rural communities outlined in Chapter 4.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

10(a) Develop and implement clear strategies in response to the recommendations of the Review of Indigenous Education.

10(b) Foster stronger relationships based on mutual respect with local, regional and national Indigenous communities.

10(c) Ensure Indigenous perspectives are taken into account in our planning and decision-making processes.

10(d) Enhance the pathways and support we provide for Indigenous students to access higher education and pursue both academic and professional staff careers.

10(e) Establish mentoring programs specific to Indigenous researchers at all career stages.

10(f) Ensure that the specific accommodation needs of Indigenous students in particular are addressed as part of an integrated approach to solving the University’s accommodation challenges.

10(g) Ensure that more students who graduate from the University do so with a deeper knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture.


Strategy Eleven: Attract and support promising students from a diversity of social and cultural backgrounds

The Green Paper indicated that a commitment to diversity among our student populations, to attracting promising students whatever their social or cultural background, is core to our sense of purpose and consistent with our history as an institution.

Yet students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds currently make up only about 7 percent of the undergraduate student population. The University seeks to increase this to at least 12 percent over the planning period by focusing on improving the preparation and aspiration of intellectually qualified students, including Indigenous students and students from rural and remote areas. The University has above average retention rates and a long history of support for students; however, we will need to ensure that our systems of student support are appropriate for a changing student demographic.

We have recently established a Social Inclusion Unit to lead partnership programs aimed at widening participation in tertiary education by students from low SES backgrounds, and to contribute more generally to education across the city. This unit has already proven its value both within the University and beyond. We have also taken a lead role in building a working coalition of six universities in the Sydney basin to develop projects and programs that work with younger school children to raise aspiration and attainment. There is considerable opportunity to create a more focused agenda of engagement with low SES communities to build our cohort from this underrepresented group. A coordinated and sustained approach is necessary to ensure benefits for our students, the community, and our overall University mission.

One other cohort of underrepresented students is that of students from rural and remote Australia. In part, this is due to a shortage of subsidised accommodation for students, particularly those in their first year of moving to the city. The challenge of increasing our stock of student accommodation was referred to in Strategy Four. Unlike some other universities in the state, the University has not invested in a large distance education program, and we have no plans to do so. But opportunities exist to partner with regional universities in bringing both low SES and rural students to the University. We have some existing partnerships of this type, and are negotiating for their expansion, particularly with the University of New England.

Responses to the discussion of a social inclusion agenda in the Green Paper revealed a broad level of endorsement for these goals. However, some responses also revealed fears that admissions criteria would be weakened by social inclusion initiatives, or that students from disadvantaged backgrounds require types of support that would be an unreasonable burden on the University. There is evidence from elsewhere to demonstrate that these concerns are unfounded, but we need to ensure that our social inclusion programs strengthen, rather than threaten, our core commitment to academic quality. Fortunately, there are models of highly selective research universities, particularly in the United States, that have succeeded in increasing opportunities for intellectually qualified students from disadvantaged circumstances, by paying particular attention to the recruitment, selection and support of this cohort and by increased community engagement.

Indeed, much that we aim to achieve in the planning period for the benefit of all students will also be effective to meet the particular needs of students from underrepresented groups. Research evidence shows that low SES students achieve academic outcomes similar to other students, provided they complete their course. Risk factors for completion have more to do with socialisation to the University than with academic preparedness or performance. The approach to curriculum renewal, to an enhanced student experience and to teaching that we described in strategies Three, Four and Seven are crucial for the success of all students at the University, but we believe that they are particularly important for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

11(a) Expand our partnerships with specific schools and community organisations to raise awareness of the value of tertiary education, support educational attainment, and increase aspirations for further study.

11(b) Review admissions criteria and policies, including those covering pathways, special admissions programs, and ATAR bonuses, to increase participation by underrepresented groups.

11(c) Set University, faculty and school targets for recruitment and retention of low SES, Indigenous and rural and remote students.

11(d) Complete ongoing negotiations with universities in rural NSW for greater cooperation in education and research, and the provision of flexible pathways for students.

11(e) Ensure appropriate support for the retention and achievement of students from underrepresented groups.

11(f) Provide staff development activities and resources to build the necessary skills to support the successful implementation of social inclusion and Indigenous education initiatives.

11(g) Convene a cross-disciplinary network of researchers into social inclusion and exclusion and related community issues.


Strategy Twelve: Provide enhanced learning opportunities for all our staff

We have already emphasised the need for better University-wide coordination of our programs for teacher and researcher development. But if we are to realise our commitment to engaged enquiry, all our staff, whatever their role at the University, should be provided with appropriate support for professional and academic development. For many of the University’s staff, their deep loyalty to the institution springs from a commitment to its core mission, a commitment to the individual and social value of education and research. We must, therefore, be a community in which all staff, professional and academic, enjoy a rich variety of opportunities for learning: opportunities important both for professional development and for their intrinsic educational value. This strategy involves three key initiatives.

First, a Work Slate project that is nearing completion is aimed at refocusing our systems for performance management and development (PM&D). In particular we intend that the PM&D process should focus on personal and professional development and mentoring. It will also become a key element in career planning within the University for individual members of staff, and thereby assist the University in succession planning.

Second, we will implement a process for the annual agreement with SEG of a coordinated program of training opportunities to be provided by the University’s internal training providers (including Learning Solutions, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, and the Centre for Continuing Education). This process will enable us, on an ongoing basis, to ensure that we provide a coherent suite of training opportunities within the University and a wider take up of those opportunities. In addition, we will examine ways in which we can make formal academic study at the University more accessible to all members of staff, and also encourage staff participation in our non-award and public programs of education.

Third, the University provides a range of mechanisms to recognise, reward, attract and retain staff. Early in the planning period we intend to institute a review of our arrangements for performance progression and bonuses. In doing so, we should find ways to encourage staff to participate in ongoing professional and academic development, and to recognise their contribution to the development of the University as a community of engaged enquiry.

In order to achieve this strategy we will:

12(a) Continue the review of the University’s Performance Management and Development system to simplify and better support the University’s performance and development needs.

12(b) Develop and implement processes for succession planning for the University, ensuring growth opportunities and career development for all staff.

12(c) Systematically review current learning programs and initiatives with a view to meeting identified capability development needs.

12(d) Facilitate participation by staff in formal academic programs, and also as both teachers and students in non-award and public programs of education.

12(e) Review arrangements for performance progression.