11 characterstics of a socially progressive university

Published: Thursday 24th March 2016

Message from Associate Vice-Chancellor Professor Jim Nyland: Last week the DVC Research informed me that I had been robbed.  I quickly checked for my wallet before realising he was referring to Manchester City losing to Manchester United in the 171st Manchester derby.

He knows a lot about Research and (scarily) just as much about football, and we were indeed robbed.  Not to worry, we are still in the European Champions League and could walk away with the Continent’s top honours.

Another team that looks beyond its national borders to make its mark is the senior management group at Brisbane Airport.  They purposely adopt a global outlook, strategically benchmarking their organisation against one of the top European Airports (Schiphol in Amsterdam) rather than Sydney or Melbourne and as a result this week they were named Best Airport in Australia/Pacific in the prestigious global Skytrax World Airport Awards.

It is hard to imagine that they would have leapfrogged their national counterparts had they opted to benchmark against one of their fellow Australian airports. Universities of course are diverse institutions; even within Australia there are significant differences between types of universities.

Many view themselves as part of a narrative of communal and socially progressive forces intent on advancing scholarship, learning and opportunity. On the other hand there is plenty of evidence that some of them are defending privilege, social exclusiveness, snobbery and class distinctions.

Some see themselves as driving change whilst some see themselves as defending traditions and values which are universalist and long-standing. The art of benchmarking in the university sector is not an easy proposition.

At ACU Brisbane we started the year with our Commencement Ceremony and the Commissioning of our superb McAuley Student Association team who certainly see themselves as contributing to a University that drives change.  My thanks to all staff and students who attended this event, especially those who donned their robes to join the academic procession.  Our robes may have given a sense of gravitas to the occasion however no-one could mistake the fact that we are undoubtedly a socially progressive force to be reckoned with – such is the emergent reputation of the campus amongst our external community.

In similar fashion, I would like to take this opportunity to thank staff and students involved in Orientation Week – many staff worked hard in the heat of the Qld summer to bring the University Community Court area to life with market stalls and exercise and fitness demonstration teams - to name but a few.  The loyalty and commitment of staff at ACU Brisbane in ensuring that our academic year got off to the best possible start in 2016 has been exceptional.

Caption: Commencement Ceremony and Commissioning of the McAuley Student Association leadership team in Brsibane

The late Professor David Watson outlined the characteristics of a modern, socially progressive university committed to driving change, saying:

  1. they must devise an attractive and relevant curriculum and learning environment
  2. they must contribute to research in some way
  3. the community must be a key focus for engagement
  4. the university must help its community to define itself and be part of it
  5. the campus must be a good place to work for students and staff
  6. the institution must be environmentally and ethically sensitive and responsible
  7. reputation locally , nationally and internationally must be preserved
  8. good staff and students must be recruited and retained
  9. a mission must be internalised and understood and also the attendant challenges
  10. a university must play its part in improving the environment, local education and health and community outcomes
  11. a reputation must be forged and carried forward on behalf of the university by its staff and students.

Staff and students at ACU Brisbane have worked hard over a period of years to realise this 11 point agenda, creating a University campus that is no longer merely a transitory site.  Rather, it is a place of beauty, innovation and inspiration, further enhanced by our current capital projects that have added a new Student-led Clinic supporting Speech Pathology and Allied Health programs; a new front of campus café – The Junction - which will be open from the 5 April onwards; new impetus for the planning of two major building projects on campus (Building U and residential accommodation) originally forecast in the 2012 ACU Brisbane campus Master Plan; and new sporting facilities on our oval including a re-turfed playing surface that will be fully matured, lit and playable by mid-May (in time to host the National Indigenous Tertiary Student Games).

Whilst Manchester City did not cover themselves with glory in their domestic Premier League I am pleased to report ACU Brisbane staff did – beating our students 9-3 in the 10th Annual Staff vs Student Soccer Match last Wednesday in the inflatable arena within the University Community Court.

Congratulations to all involved.  Our new oval with full sized soccer pitch will host this annual fixture next year (I better start training now). Watson has argued that universities must continually engage in “reflective pragmatism”, by which he means being serious about who our stakeholders really are and responding to our ‘true’ market. This means we cannot and should not all aspire to be, for example, an institution which replicates all the successes of comparator universities.

It means, for example, that ‘access’ universities can thrive in terms of their values and objectives in the same way that ‘research universities’ are encouraged and rewarded for their success in delivering a mission.

It means an end to what George Orwell called the graded snobberies of the English where endless league tables purport to show excellence as a disguised form of preferential funding.  And it means we can look with confidence beyond our geographical borders, and see clearly with a sense of wonder, pride and belonging, our reflected status as one of the world’s finest Catholic universities.