Adventures in education
by Michèle Nardelli
Exhausted and knee deep in mud on the Kokoda track, or exultant and emotionally charged at his first UniSA graduation ceremony, retiring Chancellor David Klingberg is someone who has never been afraid to experience the big adventures in life – in fact he probably thrives on them.
He spent his first 16 years in the Riverland town of Loxton. Despite the cliché, he believes he is still a country boy at heart and if that translates to resilient, community-minded and up for a challenge, it is probably true.
"I feel very privileged to have had this role over the past 10 years," he said.
"I’ve met exceptional people, visited amazing places and I’ve had the chance to make a contribution to the higher education system - something I believe is the foundation of our national development."
Klingberg is quick to point out the phenomenal growth of higher education in Australia in the past 10 years.
"The impact of higher education in the economy is more significant than ever – it is the leading service export earner for this country. Every day the research and teaching done in universities is building tomorrow’s wealth.
"If you look at the impact of universities on regional Australia - campuses like Whyalla and centres like Mt Gambier – you can see how vital they are in building not only regional capacity, but the cultural and intellectual fabric of the community."
Klingberg says universities are playing a key role in much needed skills development across the social spectrum - nurturing talent in low socio-economic communities, providing opportunities for Indigenous Australians to lead and a platform for valuing and teaching Indigenous knowledge, and engaging internationally by bringing students here and by teaching offshore.
"One remarkable and rewarding development is the huge increase in women graduating from universities, which can only lead to more women in the workforce and more women in senior and leadership positions – and that will be a good thing."
Klingberg will have none of the occasional lack of confidence expressed by the Australian business community about university graduates.
"I think we can be very proud of the university education we provide and you don’t have to look far to see very clear examples of confident, highly successful Australian graduates all around the world," he said. "I have met a lot of students in the 10 years at UniSA and not one of them has been unhappy with their education.
"If you consider some of the graduates from UniSA and its antecedents, it is an impressive line-up, both here and internationally. They are highly achieved people - Leon Davis, the former CEO of Rio Tinto, born in Port Pirie and a graduate in metallurgy; the late Maurice de Rohan, an accomplished engineer and former SA Agent General; one of Malaysia’s most high profile engineers Yeong Chee Meng; and leadingSingapore businessmanDr Chew Kia Ngee, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers and serving on a wide range of education and charity boards.
"Today we have some fantastic young people continuing that tradition – our two Rhodes scholars – Amy King and Ryan Manuel, 2007 Eureka Prize winner Nick Palousis and young engineer Jarrod Cody who last year won the Order of Australia Foundation Prize."
Klingberg says the attraction of the University is, that education builds success stories.
"One of the strange historical constructions of universities is that while they are instituted under State government legislation, they are funded federally,"he said.
"States have had a long-running good deal out of that arrangement but it is time they invested more in their universities.
"Supporting stronger partnerships with their local universities is a smart move for state governments and I’m pleased we are starting to see a new focus on this in SA. It is definitely paying off for the Queensland government, where they’ve been making a significant investment in universities for a while now. I hope we see more of it here."
And there is nothing like the big issues to attract the Chancellor. When he leaves UniSA he’s moving on to focus on climate change and leadership education. He’s been snapped up as Chair of both the Climate Change Council and the Governor’s Leadership Foundation.
Of all the impressive people he has met as Chancellor, he counts former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the current and previous Vice Chancellors Professors Peter Høj and Denise Bradley as extraordinary in their skills, intelligence and breadth.
But the special moments he says have always revolved around the students.
"I’ll never forget the first time I sat on stage at a graduation. When the audience rose to applaud the graduates, it was hard not to choke up. It was one of the most moving things I had experienced and every year since it has been an honour to share that joy."