Intercom: What's going on down there? Come in!
Han Solo: Uh, everything is under control. Situation normal.
Intercom: What happened?
Han Solo: [flustered] Uh, had a slight weapons malfunction. But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?
Bear with me. There’s relevance here, beyond referencing one of the funnier scenes in the original and best from the Star Wars series.
I have said before that the current higher education policy debate is about finances and budget repair, not reform, and that the most disappointing thing is that it isn’t really about painting a picture of the future we want for our sector.
So while that debate goes on, UniSA, as it has always done, is electing to chart its own course. While there might be turmoil and uncertainty on many fronts right now, over the next few months, what better time for us to start a conversation about what will be in our next strategic plan and the direction we’ll head?
On one level, in that new plan, there could be an argument for little change, ‘we’re all fine here…how are you?’.
Right now, the dashboard for UniSA is green - our graduates are getting jobs (in difficult circumstances) and we are proud to be consistently rated as South Australia’s best university for graduate careers.
The Times Higher Education rankings have just announced us as Australia’s youngest university in the top 250 and placed us in the top 10 in Australia - at number nine no less.
Our international students report high praise for our services in recent surveys; we have just launched UniSA Online, our new online study service; our researchers are working on solutions for society’s challenges such as dementia, diabetes and clean energy technologies, as you’ll read in this edition of UniSA News.
Coming out of the ground are the new Pridham Hall and Health Innovation Building which are transforming our city’s west and are emblematic of the new industries and jobs of the future.
All these strategic actions and improvements were challenges we set ourselves in our last plan, Crossing the Horizon. That was born from the world’s first unijam conversation and much discussion on our campuses. Although being told frequently that you can’t actually cross a horizon, I concede on that one, by the middle of next year, we will have largely set that body of hard work and challenging stuff in train – and the horizon will be in the rear view mirror.
So the challenge for us in our next plan is to maintain the spirit of adventure and experimentation that characterises us as Australia’s University of Enterprise.
Speaking a couple of weeks ago at a gathering of senior staff from the Australian Technology Network of Universities - we were meeting in Parliament House just as the higher education debate was kicking into its final stages - I was asked what worries me the most for the future of our university.
The answer was easy - complacency, the ‘we’re all fine here…’ thinking that can beset any organisation (or any industry or profession). It was a similar theme explored only a few days later when the senior staff of UniSA gathered, as we regularly do, in a poorly named but great spirited ‘retreat’, to debate and discuss our future.
A consistent thread in our discussions was that we were ready for the next stage of change and challenge – to look above and beyond the horizon.
The underlying understanding among us was that future success and benefit to those we serve cannot be guaranteed by simply repeating the practices of the past – however recent they might feel.
This is a conversation that I know many organisations and business in many sectors are having right now given the wider changes in our economy and society. But the capacity of our organisation to consistently embrace that notion is something I see every day and is one of the special UniSA characteristics of which I am most proud.
So in coming months, we will be having a range of conversations across our campuses about our mission and vision for the future, about how we can further improve the experience for our students and organise ourselves better to work and engage with our community partners.
We’ll be thinking hard about how we make sure we provide the very best programs of study, how we best equip our people, and best organise our places. And, as we open our new City West facilities around May next year, we intend to simultaneously unveil some new thinking and exciting plans for our future.
I flag right now that we won’t be having a unijam this time around; although we will still mine all the thoughts we have collected to this point through two rounds of whole-of-enterprise conversation. But in customary UniSA style, we very much welcome the suggestions and observations of our community and friends as we begin to shape our next frontier, our next horizon – informed by our successes to date and taking us further forward still.
Feel free to join in the coming conversations – but maybe avoid the intercom. (Han shoots it at the end of the scene).
Professor David Lloyd
Vice Chancellor and President