Firstly my warm congratulations to Professor Kylie Readman, currently at Murdoch University, who has been announced as my successor, and who will take up this role in November. With her background in promoting student wellbeing, the student experience and learning, she is perfectly placed to build on what we have already achieved and will of course have new ideas and approaches.
I also want to thank Professor Joanne Gray who has agreed to act in the role following my departure on 8 July until Professor Readman commences in November. I know the UTS community will give them both every support.
I think this is the best job in Australia because we have the most amazing team of academic and professional staff, not to mention so many highly motivated and exceptional students. We also have an extraordinary campus, and although I am not fond of the term ‘future-proofed’ because nothing can really be guaranteed to be, it has been carefully designed with the future firmly in mind.
You will have seen the many stories about academics at other universities giving ‘lectures’ to completely empty theatres, but with students reported to be watching a streamed version of the class online, or a recording later. We saw this coming many years ago: that students would be making judgements about whether the time investment in travelling to attend class was worth it. When the time investment is little more than a one way information transmission session, it usually isn’t worth it to students.
Instead, we have created wonderful collaborative spaces, so that students engage in more active learning experiences in teams, learning to communicate with others, dealing with the inevitable conflict that arises in teams, and using critical thinking and problem skills to work on real issues and problems.
Were I asked to characterise my time in this role, I would summarise it by saying we have all worked together to promote student success and we have done this in many ways, with three broad areas in particular: successful student outcomes; experiences of students and student support.
Our graduate outcomes include not only high graduate employment rates and employer satisfaction with their knowledge and skills, but many also graduate as lifelong learners, who have had life-changing experiences such as finding their passion, and developing and building new networks.
One of the questions I am often asked is “What is the student experience at UTS?” My response is that there isn’t one experience, rather it is more helpful to talk about “the experiences of students.” Our students are diverse, with different goals in mind, and who engage with us in different ways. Our role is to create the conditions to make it possible for them to achieve their own outcomes, all the while guiding them to consider alternatives.
We have designed student experiences to make transition to university as easy as possible so they quickly feel a sense of belonging. Through the UTS Model of Learning (what students learn) and learning.futures (how students learn), complemented by the embedded development of graduate attributes, students achieve the outcomes mentioned above. Alongside these are the many co-curricular experiences with 190+ clubs and societies, many opportunities to engage in leadership roles and with communities, and of course entrepreneurial and startup activities.
Students almost always need support of a variety of kinds. Health and wellbeing has always been important, but particularly so during CoVID-19. Since employment and employability is for many students the primary goal of their time at UTS, we have particular support for career counselling. Job searching support, professional mentoring and internships support. We are now looking to embed these even further within the curriculum.
Maintaining a sense of belonging to UTS also depends on our support for inclusion and accessibility. We continue to work towards accommodating all forms of diversity of our student body – differences in family situations, ethnicity, class, gender, disability and many other ways in which our student body is diverse. Increasingly we plan to work on this at the design level rather than waiting for issues to arise.
And of course there are multiple forms of academic support. Our embedding English language project is widely regarded as a leader in the area, we have made significant gains in providing timely language and presentation skills support to students. We also provide skills development workshops provided by the UTS Library to support our students to meet contemporary challenges. Our peer support program U:PASS is regularly called out by students in their feedback as being of immense value and Peer Networkers are always in high demand.
So, thank you to all of you. Together we have created the conditions that make it possible for our diverse body of students to achieve their goals. There is much still to do, but we have made significant progress!
I shall miss you all but will watch the next chapter with interest.