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10 years leading finance and infrastructure

by Katrina Phelps

Paul Beard.The longest serving member of UniSA’s Senior Management Group – Chief Operating Officer Paul Beard – was recently presented with a 10-year service award. No-one was more surprised than Beard himself, who says when he started he was expecting to be at UniSA for just three years.

“I was offered a five-year contract when I started and I said I might not stay that whole time and that I’d commit for three years but here I am at 10 years,” he said. “My family always joked that I’d never reach long service leave.

“In the grand scheme of a university, 10 years isn’t that long and there are many who have been here much longer – but for me it’s a long period of service.

“One of the reasons I’ve stayed is that UniSA does something which is really worthwhile – it produces graduates, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have a high proportion of students who are from a low socio-economic background and are the first in their family to go to university.

“And that’s my background. I was the first to go to university in my family and I grew up in the country area near Sandy Creek. Not many people from my Year 12 class would’ve gone to university. So I guess I was lucky that I got that opportunity to study at our City East campus.

“That’s what I see we are producing at UniSA –a group of people from diverse backgrounds with a tertiary education and the skills to succeed in the workplace, and I feel like I am contributing to that.”

He also cites working with a dedicated, hard-working and passionate group of people as another contributing factor to keeping him in the job.

Responsible for the University’s finances and facilities as well as IT, planning and institution performance, and the Service Improvement Project, Beard says he is particularly looking forward to seeing the progress of the upcoming $85m Learning Centre development at the City West campus.

“We applied three times to finally get $30m of Commonwealth funding for the building, so it’s really pleasing to see it forging ahead,” he said.

“That building along with our new online learning systems, are going to transform the way students learn and the way that we teach in the future. It will be our single biggest project during my time here. It will include a new library but it will be much more than a library with a whole lot of new learning spaces and support services also in there.

“The pleasing thing for me with infrastructure is that there is a very visible sign of the stamp I’ve made during my time here. Don’t get me wrong, I do like managing the money, but the infrastructure makes a bigger statement and can be enjoyed by many generations of students and staff.”

Beard came to UniSA 10 years ago as a chartered accountant who had worked in Adelaide and the UK, before deciding to go down a different path which led him to working in senior financial roles in the private sector. His previous role before UniSA was with AGL.

“Looking back, I must have had a lot of confidence in UniSA’s ability to change and adapt because before I took the job, I looked at UniSA’s financial situation and it wasn’t that strong at the time because it had just started to come out of some financial difficulties,” he said.

“So one of the things I’m pleased with is that I have been able to bring UniSA greater financial strength and a robustness that has enabled us to fund our improvements in teaching and learning and research.

“We are now debt-free and have significant resources that we can invest towards achieving our ambitions in Horizon 2020.”

Beard says that he never planned his career to take this direction.

“I’ve gone from opportunity to opportunity,” he said. “My approach has been to keep my head down and work hard and with a bit of luck the rest has taken care of itself.”