Tuesday, May 26, 2015

UNSW grandly challenged

We appear to be heading into the University strategic planning cycle. The Australian Financial Review uses the headline "UNSW to set itself grand challenges" to introduce Tim Dodd's story on the planning process at the University of New South Wales.

The primary aim appears to be propel the University into the top 100 on the global ranking scales as measured by the Times and Jiao Tong indexes. UNSW wishes to join the four Australian universities already there - Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland and the ANU. I hadn't realised that it wasn't there, nor had I regarded UNSW as an up and comer vieing with Monash in seeking entry to this group. So I have learned two things already from the process.

Apparently, the green discussion paper circulated within the University outlines a strategy with three goals - academic excellence, economic and social impact and operating globally through research and international education. .The paper suggests more interdisciplinary research and stronger engagement with with industry and government to ensure research is successfully applied and produces economic benefit."We will be working extensively and seamlessly with industry, business and government, having become to 'go-to' university for a wide range of partners and funders."

The University could be a leader in digital learning technologies and should be the centre of a dynamic, entrepreneurial start-up community. International student numbers will be expanded via a combination of offshore teaching with digital learning. Various strategic alliances are proposed, with a possible "Grand Challenges Institute" to bring world leaders and experts together to identify solutions to Australia's and the world's biggest problems.

Various productivity improvement options are canvassed including extending scheduled study through summer with four ten week annual teaching blocks, shifting research resources from low to high priority areas, creating more teaching only positions while offering more blended learning and purely on-line courses.

While I don't have access to the green paper itself, I can see it in my mind with its diagrams and pastel colours, its interconnected goals and aspirations.I wonder where students fit in, whether there is room for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake including the areas I am especially interested in. .

This is one area where I accept that I am irredeemably old fashioned. The people who have most influenced me, whose knowledge I have drawn from and built on day after day down the years, would not (I think) have survived at UNSW. They wouldn't have wanted to be there.The need to meet agreed performance objectives flowing down from on high would have been totally inconsistent with their sometimes slow and reflective thought patterns.

Is there still room in a world where universities are first businesses concerned with organisational survival and growth for a university that is first a university?  I would like to think so. As I said, I am irredeemably old fashioned.


Anonymous said...

I don't think this is limited to UNSW.
On another note, in terms of performance indicators, what do you think of performance of universities based on publications in A/A* journals? Both in terms of the peverse behaviour it may create, the delays in publishing in those journals, as well as what happens to any journal that isn't A/A*.
Answers on a post card please...

2 tanners said...

Not limited to UNSW. Look at the performance of the Go8 in supporting the proposed deregulation of university fees because, like, free markets, you know. If at the same time all Australian degrees were deregulated because, like, free markets, you know, they'd be leading the charge for regulation, quality and assessment (at government expense) because, like, governance, you know.

Jim Belshaw said...

To anon: a personal sore point that I have written about. Apart from the distortions it creates in terms of university performance, it distorts knowledge creation, especially in less popular areas.

Hi 2T. I laughed. I actually support deregulation of uni fees, but you capture the gang of eight so well.