You could be excused for taking a cynical view of senior staff retreats. The “managers”, wearing casual clothes, bonding and hugging (yes, that does happen) and determining our future without having to live with the consequences of doing all the work.
But when we sat down to workshop Enterprise25 a couple of weeks ago, something entirely expected happened. We got it off to a flying start.
A group of around 70 people who don’t ordinarily work together on a daily basis sat at tables and workshopped, re-imagining UniSA with a laser-like focus on our programs and an aim to reduce our operational silos.
I’m a lapsed chemist which means that somewhere in my psyche there’s an inner scientist who subscribes to scientific method and experiment to determine truth.
So, with the senior staff we were experimenting. We said: we want a program focused institution; and we want to reduce operational silos. How do you get to that? Well, you build your institution around your programs; and you build it around a smaller number of ‘things’, which are, by necessity, each a bit bigger than the existing things because you’re not seeking to reduce your activity.
Broadly, we want to strengthen program leadership. We want academics spending their time on teaching and research; we want fewer operational silos and we want them to be built around programs. Whatever academic structure we create therefore then has to be appropriately supported by corporate and academic professional services. We have to get the academic structure right first, aligned to our ambition – program focus, fewer silos – and then we make sure the services structure is right.
Our Enterprise25 plans calls for a re-shape and review of our programs to ensure they are leading-edge, end user endorsed programs that are all ranked among the best in the world.
To make sure they’re the best, we’re drawing on the best academic and curriculum expertise, and the best new knowledge from our research, from across the University to ensure high quality education.
We’ll strengthen our program leadership and academics will spend their time on teaching and research.
We’ll have fewer operational silos and our structure will be built around programs by our academic community in an unprecedented act of co-creation in organisational design.
Our undergraduate programs will integrate interdisciplinary opportunities, delivering skilled and flexible graduates to an ever-changing workforce.
We do two things at UniSA. Through our research, we create new knowledge that is central to global economic and social prosperity, and we graduate career-ready professionals to put that new knowledge to work.
In simple terms, that’s what we do. And in simple terms, that’s what we’re going to focus on. That’s all we’re going to focus on.
This is something of a departure from the traditional concept of university structures; we intend to break new ground here.
We will invest our time and energy in making these products – our programs – the best in Australia, and amongst the best in the world.
We are already ranked as one of the world’s very best young universities – those under 50 years old – which gives us the ability and the agility to move quickly to take advantage of new opportunities. To be a university that gets stuff done; a university that challenges the traditional concepts and redefines them for today.
And while it’s true that we are young and agile and able and successful, we are also a not-for-loss organisation and we have to gear our activities to prepare for an array of contingencies. Foremost amongst those is an indeterminate funding base for our operation – with the current government intent on peeling back another 7.5 per cent of our core funding, while simultaneously limiting the ambition of the Australian public through the removal of the demand-driven system.
The forthcoming federal election will, unfortunately, likely deliver little additional certainty to a sector which is worth billions to the State and the nation’s economy (beyond the certainty that I will have had an average 1.2 ministers per annum since I came to Australia).
Our merger discussions last year taught us a lot. We learned to stick to our guns and to maintain our institutional focus on what we do best. UniSA is Australia’s University of Enterprise and we now have a bold plan to further our standing.
However, none of this is about cost-cutting. Our E25 plans are about using every resource at our disposal to give our students the best possible start to whichever career they have chosen.
Our research will have the same focus: investing where we excel and where we can make the most of our intellectual firepower, and where we can make the biggest contribution to our economy and to our community, and deliver results.
Our UniSA Research Themes will continue to bring together staff across disciplines to address significant challenges facing society, our industry sector strategy will help us to build partnerships into large-scale research activities and precincts, and facilitate the translation of knowledge into impact.
Get stuff done in other words.
As a University of Enterprise it makes sense for us to evolve and change as we keep up with the changing demands of our students and our research partners.
You won’t find any ossified sandstone intransigence here.
Our enterprise transformation will change the University and cement our position as the University of Choice for professional careers; with the best graduate employment outcomes in this State and amongst the highest in the nation; as the University of Choice for business and industry seeking to access our research to help to solve their problems; as the University of Choice for people who truly want to make a difference.
But all that’s in our future. I have asked senior staff to work on refining their thinking around the roles, responsibilities and the operationalisation of this type of thinking. In April we’ll have a very large number of staff and students working to cluster our programs into structures.
Then, and only then, will we be in a position to effect change … when we have worked it all through and thought about it as lapsed chemists would; when we have taken the input of the wider university community on populating a new structure and when we all understand it and how we are going to get to it – that’s when change will happen.
There are no secrets here. No minds already made up. We’re just one team, building a new enterprise. And we’re going to do it together.
Professor David Lloyd
Vice Chancellor and President