The University of Newcastle (UON) recently launched its “NeW Futures Strategic Plan 2016-2025”. I like some of the language in the plan and hope it opens up possibilities.
The vision is
UON stands as a global leader distinguished by a commitment to equity and excellence and to creating a better future for its regions though a focus on innovation and impact.
Eight themes underpin the vision:
1. An enduring commitment two equity and social justice
2. Graduates who make a difference
3. A passion for excellence and discovery
4. Driving global and regional impact
5. Engaging across the globe
6. A shared future with our communities
7. Staff who make their mark
8. Building a sustainable future.
Many of these speak to my values and priorities. I want to work at a place that is committed to equity and social justice, where we make a difference and make a mark, and that helps create a sustainable future.
Of course what these mean to me might be quite different to what they mean to many people within UON.
I felt the same optimism with the Newcastle Council’s Community Strategic Plan in 2011. The guiding principles were strong:
1. Ecologically sustainable development principles
2. Social Justice
3. Local democracy
The seven strategic directions also had lots of potential:
1. A connected city
2. A protected and enhanced environment
3. Vibrant and activated public places
4. A caring and inclusive community
5. A liveable and distinctive built environment
6. A smart and innovative city
7. Open and collaborative leadership.
Unfortunately I struggle to see how these high ideals have influenced the day to day running, and overall direction, of Newcastle.
I hope the same things doesn’t happen to UON. The vision and themes in New Futures build on the previous strategic plan and some of them clearly have had an influence on the priorities of the University. For example it has a strong commitment (backed up with significant resources) to supporting students from backgrounds who frequently miss out on University education (e.g., students from marginalised communities). Open Foundation (an alternative entry pathway to the University) has supported thousands of people to gain entry to an undergraduate degree.
It is a clear demonstration of UON’s commitment to equity and social justice. I doubt, however, that their commitment to social justice is going to mean that they will reconsider their cleaning contract with Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield Services) which also runs the offshore detention centres (or the regional processing centres as the government likes to call them) for refugees on Naru and Manus Islands.
UON is quite aspirational. It is a large regional University and wants to compete with the Group of Eight universities (old, research intensive universities in capital cities) and to have a strong global reputation. I suspect that this focus will have a major influence on how the eight themes are implemented. For example, over the past couple of years there has been an increasing emphasis on all academic staff producing research outputs (particularly ones with international partnerships) and there is a large focus on how the UON is doing compared to the top Australian Universities.
At the same time, the New Futures Strategic Plan provides an opening for staff and units within the Uni (including the Family Action Centre) to demonstrate how they are helping to meet the UON’s strategic directions in a variety of ways. We can show how we are contributing to equity and social justice, making our mark, supporting local communities and promoting sustainability. The strategic plan is clear that we have a shared future with our communities and it recognises the important of a regional impact, so not everything has to be about national and global reputation.
Some of the more detailed measures of success gives me hope that plan could open up possibilities, for example:
- We will achieve parity of participation of students from low SES and Indigenous backgrounds or with a disability with the proportion of these populations in our regions
- Over half of our students will engage in paid or volunteer capacity with businesses, industries, government and community organisations across our regions
- We will have increased staff diversity, achieved the target of 3.9% for Indigenous employment and be in the top 5 of Australian universities for female staff in senior leadership roles
- Our environmental planning will take account of the needs of the next generation. We will achieve a 20% reduction in CO2e/m2 Gross Floor Area by 2020.
I hope it offers plenty of room to focus on the things that matter to me without getting lost in the drive to be bigger and better.
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