ACU Senior Lecturer and Undergraduate Course Coordinator Dr Charles Hollis is no stranger to embracing change within his career – Charles says he fell into academia after a corporate restructure lead to retrenchment.
“I came to ACU 20 years ago and started as the foundation lecturer in Marketing in Brisbane. I helped to get the Business program up and running on this campus,” Charles said.
Charles brought with him extensive corporate experience from his previous roles as a Marketing Manager, largely in the Finance and Insurance Industry. His research interests include services marketing, cause-related marketing and social marketing.
As the University expanded over the following two decades, Charles says significant change shaped both his career and the evolution of the Faculty of Law and Business at ACU.
“We started off relatively small - each campus probably didn’t really have critical mass. Other than for nursing and education, ACU was relatively unknown,” he said.
In QLD, ACU focused on engaging with schools in the Northern Corridor - and in recent years Charles has seen a noticeable change in student interest at higher education expos. “Particularly for Business, we are getting more first preferences. More people are opting to go to ACU – but it’s taken that long to get some presence in the market here in Brisbane. Our numbers have doubled over the last four years.” he said. “One of the big changes is that we are getting a lot of students who are first in family [to attend University] - and now we have a number of students that are from a variety of backgrounds.”
Charles says that supporting students from diverse backgrounds is a continual work in progress - and interesting times lay ahead in an increasingly pressured higher education environment. “Currently, a Federal Government of any persuasion is going to take an economical view of how to cut costs – they’re not looking at what educational outcomes should be, and then funding for those. We can’t stand still - if you fall behind, you can become irrelevant in the marketplace. That’s a challenge for all universities, across the board,” he said.
Service quality and service delivery are topics among Charles’s research interests, and he believes there is an increasing need to ‘think outside the square’ about tertiary education services. “We have students coming in with a whole lot of outside pressures. They’ve got to work [to afford] to be at uni, and they may have family commitments. So while they may be capable of better performance, uni becomes something they are satisfied with just getting through.”
Structuring course delivery for enhanced learning remains is a key challenge as universities embrace new technologies and methods of study, Charles says. “At times, the thinking has been to put everything online and then students can study when they’ve got the time. But that isn’t necessarily the best way of learning or the best way for engagement either.” “From day one in the Business School, we are telling our students that they are in a dynamic world and so change is inevitable. What they are learning now will probably soon become out of date, so we try to get them to become life-long learners.”
Charles believes it is crucial that the University builds upon its strengths by ensuring that programs remain relevant, and that industry sees ACU graduates as desirable employees. “There are a few areas, that once fully developed, can set us apart with points of difference from other universities,” he said. “Some of that is the student experience - to some extent we have an advantage in that our class sizes are generally smaller, and this allows more engagement by students. The Core Curriculum is definitely a point of difference and also adds to the student’s lived experience - in teaching our units, we attempt to convey the University’s values. But going beyond that, how do we get students more involved in community engagement and making a difference in that regard?”
Charles says now is the time to innovate in those areas of our degrees that are not proscribed by the accreditation bodies, and set students up for a dynamic career. Cross-disciplinary opportunities are an advantage for ACU, he says, and enable Business students to expand their scope into other areas such as the non-profit sector, or health or educational leadership.
He believes building on the reputation of ACU’s graduates along with fostering new and stronger industry partnerships may open opportunities to attract private funding. “If you look at the universities in America and Europe, they attract lots of funding from corporations - to improve business education and to do research. While we haven’t got that culture here in Australia, there are some aspects of this... and I think there’s an opportunity to move in that space.” “I think the academic restructure this year has put us in a better position to be able to do some of these things. We are at an evolutionary stage in Business - being combined with Law is a change that is creating interesting opportunities and also challenges. There have been missed opportunities under the previous faculty arrangements, and this year has been more about consolidation so that we can go forward in the future.”