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VU Logo and vu.edu.au

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Victoria University's Transformational Agenda

Conversations with Alan Kohler, November 2017

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Victoria University is developing a dynamic university model relevant to the needs of learners and the community of the 21st century.

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The transformation is well underway.

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The White Paper on the future of Victoria University defines and elaborates on the principles, ideas and initiatives driving this change...

Alan Kohler

Heraclitus said the only constant is change, and he might have added you can either embrace change or get run over by it. With the white paper Vice-Chancellor Peter Dawkins is challenging Victoria University, to not only embrace change, but to mould it. To transform itself and to play a leadership role in the rethinking of tertiary education in the 21st century.

17 years into this century it's clear that no corner of society will be spared Heraclitus's dictum. But what VU's leadership team and staff are doing, is to ensure that change is securely located in VU's own culture and history, as well as its unique role in Melbourne's west.

To that end the first of the four big ideas around which the white paper is framed, is moral purpose. That is the role of the university in transforming lives and transforming communities. This series of interviews starting with the Vice-Chancellor himself is designed to shine a light on that purpose, and to detail what a university without boundaries means, how VU has been transformed and what the end result looks like. As the white paper says it's open, excellent, innovative and future-focused.

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The big ideas. Underpinning the transformation.

Peter last time we were here you had just released the Green Paper now you've released a White Paper, tell us why you did that and what it's about?

Peter Dawkins

Well the reason we're doing it Alan is that Victoria University is engaged in very exciting transformational agenda at the moment, and we thought it very important to lay out what that transformational agenda is about, and how it all fits together so that people can see their place in the various parts of Victoria University, and how it's going to contribute to a great future for the university.

Alan Kohler

So tell us about how the university is going to make that that transformation happen?

Peter Dawkins

Well, ah, we were already doing a number of major reforms such as the introduction of a first year model and a first year college, we're moving towards some other big innovations like the introduction of an online business. But what we've done in this white paper is lay out some of the big ideas that underpin these changes, and then we elaborate what the changes are.

Alan Kohler

In fact there's four big ideas tell us about the first one of those.

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The Moral Purpose. Transforming lives and transforming communities.

Peter Dawkins

The first one is about the moral purpose of the university, very much linked to our vision and our mission. It's about transforming lives and transforming communities between universities got a fantastic mission we're based here in the west of Melbourne, where there's a very diverse student community and a region that needs itself to undergo a transformation. And Victoria University's mission is to transform lives, transform communities, and that's the first big idea and gives a great moral purpose to the University.

Alan Kohler

Interesting word, the word moral and how you're framing it in the context of the moral purpose.

Peter Dawkins

Absolutely well I think people across the university feel a great sense of purpose and that they are really doing something very important for humanity here at Victoria University it's a very distinctive feature of the University and it leads on to the second the second big idea.

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Reconceptualising Tertiary Education. A university without boundaries.

The second big idea is about reconceptualising what tertiary education is all about and we call it a university without boundaries. So in the 21st century nearly everybody's going to need some kind of tertiary education whether it be vocational education, or higher education in order to be successful. And by saying were University without boundaries we're firstly saying, that we are going to support any student from any background, to be successful in tertiary education. We're not putting any boundaries around the students that we want to support, and then having done that, we want to break down barriers within the university as well between for example higher education and vocational education.

Alan Kohler

So, the third big idea.

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Developing 21st century skills, confronting 21st century challenges. A contemporary and future focussed university.

Peter Dawkins

Well the third big idea is about working for students in a 21st century context, it's about being future-focused, it's about developing 21st century skills 21st century skills for our students that that are about things like problem solving, they're about critical thinking, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and the other aspect about confronting the challenges of the 21st century is that there are big issues that we have to address in 21st century that require interdisciplinary solutions and so, we've got two big flagship interdisciplinary things that will, will govern our research agenda and also curriculum.

Alan Kohler

And finally, the fourth big idea.

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Agility, productivity and growth. An agile, dynamic, innovative and growing university.

The fourth big idea, is that we need to be very innovative, very agile ,very flexible, very dynamic as a university. We're in a very competitive marketplace in tertiary education there's been a lot of deregulation it's a very market driven system that we operate in now as opposed to the old supply driven system, and to be successful in that environment we're going to have to be agile, innovative, dynamic and that's the kind of university we're creating with lots of new initiatives

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The transformation. Four key initiatives.

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The new Victoria University First Year Model.

Alan Kohler

Well Alan, you've been with the organisation for a long time now; 27 years, how big a change is the first year model?

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Alan McWilliams. VU Lecturer (Management) and First Year Coordinator.

Alan McWilliams

This is a profound shift; it's quite a dramatic change in the way we do things and it's a very different way of teaching, but it's going to be a really different experience for students.

Alan Kohler

And Meagan you're involved in designing and for your particular discipline which is paramedics.

Meagan McInnes

That's correct.

Alan Kohler

How interesting is that process?

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Meagan McInnes. VU Lecturer, Paramedic Sciences First Year College.

Meagan McInnes

Yeah it's been incredibly interesting. I'm in a bit of a different position to Alan because I'm quite new to academia, paramedics is quite new to academia as well but you know largely students our staff certainly accustomed to coming into mainly a lecture style environment but it feels that next year we've really got a clean slate to play with. We know what we want to provide for our students and we really get to shuffle the decks in terms of how we do that and be quite creative in terms of the approach, so it's been very fun exciting stressful at times but certainly exciting area to work in leading up to starting next year.

Alan Kohler

Alan, tell us a bit about the background of how the first year model came about.

Alan McWilliams

Like a lot of change it’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary, although the point we're at now going to blocks is revolutionary in a lot of ways. Some people from the university were dispatched off on a fact finding tour they visited those two universities in particular so Quest in Colorado College. They came back with a lot of very exciting ideas of how things could be done, I think to the credit of the University at this point in history those ideas weren't just put to a committee and forgotten, they were analysed quickly they were acted upon and we're now in the implementation phase have been very agile in how we responded to these new ideas.

Alan Kohler

I was going to say that's a pretty short turnaround time for a big organisation like the University, I guess it shows that the place really kind of got hold of it really wanted to do it thought it was a great idea.

Alan McWilliams

And it's I think it is fitting with our strategic direction we are becoming a much more agile university, and I think that reflects the general environment that universities in Australia facing at the moment. I think the universities that are agile and innovative will be the universities that succeed into the future.

Meagan McInnes

It will be great learning tools for us moving forward, and particularly working with one block at a time, and smaller student numbers that more one-to-one or that the greater capacity for us to work in closer relationships with the students will really enable us to get a greater idea of the student experience which I think we can take with this moving forward.

Alan Kohler

In a way the first year model embodies that focus.

Alan McWilliams

It's the crucible of change, I think the first year is really embodying all of those change issues and bringing it to that that tight focus on the first year. And yes I think you're right it's the living aspect of the white paper

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VU flagships, interdisciplinary clusters and VU research.

Alan Kohler

Obviously the University's going through a big transformation the white paper process the university without boundaries well how does research fit into that?

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Warren Payne. VU PVC Research and Research Training.

Warren Payne

Well I think a couple of things. First of all we're certainly looking as I said to engage with industry so our research experience is not limited to our campuses, so our research is embedded in industry government and in our community both locally and globally.

Alan Kohler

And do you focus the research at VU in certain areas that complement what the university does?

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College Clusters. Sport Health and Active Living. Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities.

Warren Payne

So we have two major areas of focus or the flagship areas one being Sport Health and Active Living, and the other one being Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities and all of our research will be focused within those areas.

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Working with Industry to identify and answer the big questions.

Warren Payne

What we're embarking upon now is as I said working with industry to actually identify what the big questions are that we need to answer within those flagship areas, now and into the future.

Alan Kohler

And what sort of process does that involve what you have to do in order to identify what those questions are?

Warren Payne

Well first of all we need to look at what our capabilities are, so we will be building upon our capabilities and our strengths, and then working with peak industry bodies some of our key stakeholders in discussions, focus groups questionnaires to say what are the issues and then boiling that down into some big questions and grand challenges if you like and then the questions that sit underneath that. So that our academics can feel they're being part of the process but also our process is not devoid of understanding the demands of industry.

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VU Polytechnic. And cross-university programs and schools

Alan Kohler

Can you give us an example of how they break down or the removal of the boundaries is working in nursing between the work that you're doing in the Polytechnic and the college is doing how's that how's that actually taking place

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Grant Dreher. Vice-President Vocational Education.

Grant Dreher

Well at the moment the Dean and my director and myself we reconceptualising how we can bring the Diploma of Nursing and the degree in nursing closer together to make sure that people have the opportunity to leave with the dual qualification, increase the amount of clinical placement they have earlier in their degree, be able to work as a what we call a Div-2 nurse while they're completing that their higher ed qualification in the early stages of conceptualization because there's a few external barriers as well but we think it's something that we could offer that would be a really unique and highly valued qualification.

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Giving students and distinct advantage.

We have a concept that I think in the white paper around cross university schools and I think more generally we should be linking out our vocational education our higher education so as our students leave with the distinct advantage over other students who leave with a degree. They have these the hands-on and technical skills that they're not getting with a TAFE qualification but they also have the knowledge based skills and research ability that they'll get out of their higher education.

Alan Kohler

Tell us what you're doing in the visitor economy.

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The visitor economy. Identified as a major opportunity.

Grant Dreher

The visitor economy is one of the fastest growth areas that the Victorian economy is relying on. One of the things I think is importantly but if a person comes in as an accountant and they want to run a restaurant they don't need another degree, they probably need some hands-on skills on how to run a restaurant. If a chef wants to move from being a chef into running a restaurant you probably need some higher education quals around accounting and running a business and that type of thing and we want people to be able to come in and out of that school as they need to and be our customer for life but not in not in just a linear fashion. And I think it also means that the products the university offers will be more easily understood by external consumers and I think that's something we have to be more cognisant of than we have been in the past.

Alan Kohler

I wonder whether the school of the visitor economy in fact becomes a prototype for the future, the 21st century tertiary education institution, what do you reckon?

Grant Dreher

Yeah I think, I think it could and as I said before I think we have a unique opportunity here but dual-sector to make that happen. People basically they want a job out of the training they do so whether that's their first job, a new job, a promotion, entry back into the workforce that's what we need to provide and the solutions not always VET and it's not always higher education and we have the ability to offer both of the products seamlessly.

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VU Online.

Alan Kohler

So what does VU online end up looking like?

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Michael Ratcliffe. VU Director, Strategic Development.

Michael Ratcliffe

What we're hoping is to have courses that are attractive in the market that have high commercial potential and they'll be arrayed in stacks, so courses from the same field of education. So if we were to take business you'd have a degree which would underpin masters and they'd all have their sub-qualifications so the grad certs and the diplomas as well.

Alan Kohler

And I suppose the thing about it is that this is really without boundaries, online has no boundaries at all, obviously mostly engaged with Melbourne and in particular the west of Melbourne but how do you see it going broader than that?

Michael Ratcliffe

Yeah look if you're talking with education without boundaries, you've got to be talking online. There are people in the west of Melbourne who can't take education for various reasons might be mobility employment family situations.

Alan Kohler

But it's not an outsourcing is it? I mean it's been brought into the university as a subsidiary explain how that works

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100% VU-owned subsidiary to lead VU online.

Michael Ratcliffe

Yes so when you when you run an online company it's important to get all the component pieces right and really get them nailed down tightly and that's difficult to do within it something as complex as a university. So the way that we decided to approach this was to set up a subsidiary that'll be a hundred percent owned and run by the university, but will enable us to seek sources from outside the university or from a whole range of providers so that we can take components from a whole raft of areas including the university, manage them really effectively in that subsidiary, and then get a top-quality service out of it.

Alan Kohler

And that's the way to have the university's values embedded in that subsidiary.

Michael Ratcliffe

Yeah we thought that was the way forward.

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Other transformational initiatives.

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VU Academy for leadership and social change. What will it look like?

Watch the full interview at http://intranet.vu.edu.au/vco/TowardsAWhitePaper.asp

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Thinh Nguyen. VU Head, VU Academy.

Thinh Nguyen

So we have two aspects of the Academy, one is the social impact programs where students working within the communities, as well as creating social enterprises and businesses that aim to produce solutions for the community or for the environment. And then the other side of that is personal growth activities, you know some programs that help them in their leadership, help them about resilience hoping to develop grit, you know so those characteristics which are necessary in order to be successful in a lot of these projects.

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VU innovations and VU Hanger. Taking it to another level.

Watch the full interview at http://intranet.vu.edu.au/vco/TowardsAWhitePaper.asp

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Steve Berridge. VU Vice-President, Engagement, Marketing and International.

Thinh Nguyen

We understand that to realise our vision, and our mission we're gonna have to do a whole lot of things, and some of the things we're going to need to do will be new and quite different to the way we do things now. We're well aware of the changes in our environment and more and more to come. So we've come somewhere along this track already it at VU with quite a few big strategic innovation initiatives like the First Year Model, VU research but you online etc. But we've also been working at a different scale as well we've been really looking to stimulate, to identify, to amplify, the kind of ideas the creativity the entrepreneurship that we've got both within the university but also within our external relationships and networks.

Alan Kohler

Now obviously the white paper is designed to take all that to another level and in particular the thing called VU Hanger tell us about that and what it's planned for next year.

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Gus Balbontin. VU Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

Gus Balbontin

Um, look the video hangar was in a way I guess the way that we encapsulated all those initiatives that were working on. The view hangar operates us as a stimulation space, as well as a you know online digitally, and also physically it has a number of locations across the West and in different campuses, and I guess it's a space where the community and staff and students can come to get advice, to get you know small courses that we provide, all to do with entrepreneurship and the development of you know innovative thinking I guess.

Alan Kohler

Well Gus there a concrete example of how you're bringing startup culture to both the University?

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Embracing innovation. VU's Start-Up school.

Gus Balbontin

And the community one of the initiatives that we've been running at the video hangar is the startup school start school helps students and staff and the community basically grow from zero to hero as quickly as possible to see if there is a market fit for their idea some students were with Lisa the wonderful thing is the background here the diversity that he found his university but these guys have some Chinese and Singaporean background we've been working with in developing a clothing brand but they've been very passionate about. They actually even went to China with again supported by the university to go and explore some of the manufacturing. They've just opened up the shop into Yarraville, the university owns a well rents a space in there that we offer up to startups to use as prime real estate to test their ideas, and they've been there for the last few days selling the brand new products and putting their brand into the market, which has been a remarkable experience for them and for us as well.

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Employability and graduate success. Adapting and connecting to a changing world.

Watch the full interview at http://intranet.vu.edu.au/vco/TowardsAWhitePaper.asp

Alan Kohler

Jo your director of employability looking for 21st century skills for the people coming out of the university but the trouble of course is that it's changing all the time quite quickly now how do you adjust for that

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Jo Van-Son. VU Director of Employability.

Jo Van-Son

Well I think to start with one of the things we talk to students about is that they need more than their degrees so there are many students graduating with a degree but the real challenge is how do you stand out from the rest, and preparing for a series of jobs that we don't actually understand yet. So we really looked to encourage students to engage with all of the different aspects of the university beyond that course so we're talking about the co-curricular and to develop their personal skills so that they're well prepared when they actually apply for a job to stand out and be recognized as different to the rest of their students.

Alan Kohler

And Trish you're in charge of connected learning - what is that?

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Trish McCluskey. VU Director, Connected Learning.

Trish McCluskey

We've chosen the term connected learning deliberately because learning is no longer just in an isolated classroom with the teacher and the students need to be connected to their professions their industry to each other and increasingly they have to be connected using technology, so it's about connecting and collaborating.

Alan Kohler

There's connectability everywhere and it's really embedded in the whole idea of employability.

Trish McCluskey

Yeah that's right, so during students study at Victoria University we encouraged them to engage in workplace learning we set up assessments where students have to actually either go into the workplace and do an internship, or go and explore problems in the workplace using technology, which is a critical point.

Alan Kohler

So they are actually assessed on that as well as academic things?

Trish McCluskey

Absolutely, it's not just reading writing and arithmetic anymore. We actually expect students to be able to use some contemporary skills like finding, filtering, and evaluating information using technology, because there is so much information out there that is overwhelming, but students need to have the resources to be able to evaluate that in terms of its authenticity and value and whether it's something that will be of value to their learning.

Alan Kohler

And Jo it sounds like employers are looking that as well?

Jo Van-Son

Absolutely that's what they're telling us they're looking for graduates who work ready, not just having the knowledge and skills, but really being able to hit the ground running and provide value to the employer the moment that they start.

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Indigenous strategy. Shine bright.

Watch the full interview at http://intranet.vu.edu.au/vco/TowardsAWhitePaper.asp

Alan Kohler

Well Karen you've got a couple of indigenous terms associated with your name one is Moondani Balluk, and the other is Bathelmun Yalingwa. Tell us what they both mean.

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Karen Jackson. Director, Moondani Balluk.

Karen Jackson

Moondani Balluk is the indigenous academic unit here at Victoria University, it means embrace people in the Waddawurrung language of the Kulin peoples, and it represents what we do as a unit we embrace all Aboriginal people whether they're students or staff and community, plus non Aboriginal people in the university setting. Bathelmun Yalingwa is also Waddawurrung language and that means shine bright so um we sort of thought you know the university is about creating opportunity so we wanted Aboriginal people to shine bright.

Alan Kohler

And how does that fit into the white paper process?

Karen Jackson

So to be included into the white paper strategy is really important for the work of Moondani Balluk and the work of the strategy which is a university-wide strategy.

Alan Kohler

Okay what does the University without boundaries mean to your work?

Karen Jackson

It means that if the university doesn't have boundaries then, it can speak more openly with Aboriginal people and speak more honestly and in collaboration with particularly its own Aboriginal staff and particularly Moondani Balluk indigenous academic unit. And I think that will have a long-term impact in the way that the university thinks about itself as an organisation, but the way that it also thinks about incorporating Aboriginal traditions and Aboriginal knowledge into what it is, and so that Aboriginal ways of knowing and Aboriginal ways of being can be incorporated into the university as a whole. And I guess also without on the other hand the other our university without boundaries is a place that's open for Aboriginal people to come in, and so that they can feel safe in that space, especially if they know that the people who are within that space understand who they are. A university without boundaries will be you know magnificent people who lead the way for great change I think.

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A VU Student and ABC TV production.