shirley1. This year is UTS’s 30th anniversary. What is your fondest memory of UTS?

My fondest memories all involve people – the friendships, collegiality, great sense of teamwork, and a shared belief in social justice that is the hallmark of working at UTS.
One humorous memory I have is from many years ago, when we had the old lift system. Some students conducted a clever campaign to highlight the slow speed of the lifts by holding theatre performances there. So the lift doors would open to reveal students inside standing on milk crates acting out Shakespeare. It made for a very enjoyable lift journey!

2. What are your favourite reads or Netflix series?

I read my Twitter feed every day (@SAlexander_UTS) – it keeps me in touch with higher education around the world. I’m also an avid novel reader. I recently read Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and would recommend both. But, I am probably one of the last people to start watching Suits on Netflix!

3. What drives you to turn up to work at UTS every day?

Education is one of the most important industries there is – I have personal experience of its life-changing nature for individuals, and for society in general, and believe we absolutely must have a strong education system to prepare for the future.

I came from a low-SES background and education was a life-changer for me [find out more in an opinion piece in The Australian. If you are blocked by the firewall you can read My eternal thanks for Gough’s giftsourced from the UTS Library’s online catalogue for news]. 

In my job, I’m also privileged to meet students, all the time, who have very difficult home lives. Sometimes they’re carers who travel long hours to come to university and have to work at least part-time, yet they still volunteer to help other students. I find that extraordinary and it makes me want to come to work every day.


Photo: Shirley and Attila pictured with the 2017 Peer Network (PNs), sans those well-known orange tees. The PNs are a 400+ group of UTS student volunteers in the Student Services Unit (SSU) who volunteer their time at the start of session to welcome and support new students on campus.

4. Digital literacy is critical in a rapidly changing workforce. What digital skill have you tackled this year?

I’ve always been an early adopter of technologies but it’s a constant learning process. I used to use Yammer as an online collaboration tool but this year have moved to Microsoft Teams in Office365 for enhanced group communication.

5. What are the three biggest challenges facing learning and teaching?

First, there is the challenge of ensuring we are preparing graduates for entry into the workforce, not only in terms of skills and knowledge but also in terms of landing a job, to begin with. Disappearing rapidly is the era of simply preparing an application and attending an interview. Now there is the production of personal videos, online testing, and participation in group problem-solving exercises to prepare for as well.

Second, is the evolving nature of the labour market and the shift to more casualised employment. We need to be sure we are preparing students for this emerging environment.

Third, is the changing nature of learning – there are still those who believe students need only listen (to lectures) and read in order to achieve intended learning outcomes. Our learning.futures strategy promotes additional active and authentic learning activities to ensure the best possible outcomes for students.

6. What are you most excited about in the year ahead?

I’m almost at the end of a project on the Future of Work and what it means for the curriculum. I have a lot of recommendations for ways in which we can adapt to prepare students for the future of work. But you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to find out exactly what they are!

Photo: In Meursault, Burgundy, on a recent two-week cycling trip through France. 

Find out more

This Ask the Exec was originally published in August’s Learning and Teaching edition of UMag. The edition features a number of learning and teaching stories from across the campus, including:

  • Free-range engineering (Studio Learning): Take a look at the studio learning experience from three perspectives: the coordinators, the student facilitator, and the student.
  • When uni meets the real world (Authentic Assessment): Three UTS communication students look at just some of the ways academics are incorporating authentic assessments.
  • Fair and square (Academic Integrity): We’re flipping the conversation to help students understand what academic integrity is and what the repercussions of student misconduct are. UTS Business School’s Amanda White talks about her experience and the resources that she, and the Academic Integrity Working Group, are developing.
  • 4 ways to build data curiosity (Data Literacy): Data is part and parcel of 21st-century living. But what does it mean to be data literate and why is it important? Academics from the Connected Intelligence Centre and TDi offer their top tips.
  • Hybrid learning (Postgraduate): Peter Scott’s opinion piece explores the future of work and postgraduate learning.

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