Special edition: CMM celebrates the top 20 achievers of 2016

In a year where surviving was an achievement some people actually end the year in better shape than they started

Andrew Barkla

Half of IDP is owned by Australian universities, however the other half of the international student placement and English language testing and teaching company floated last year at $2.65. Shares were trading at $3.88 yesterday. The growth has occurred on Mr Barkla’s watch, who took over in August last year. Close observers of IDP suggest there are good things to come. 

Simon Birmingham

The Education and Training Minister spent the start of the year taking “deregulation and $100k degrees” off the agenda and putting abolition of VET FEE HELP on it. In the process he defused big political problems for the government. And then he started building a case for change in higher education, signalling concerns with undergraduate attrition, graduate employment, entry scores  and the course-funding model. Cautiously but clearly he also signalled changes to come in university funding, which one way or another looks like involving hikes to what students pay. He has not done anything yet, but the evidence of his replacement of VET FEE HELP indicates when he does it will be quick and comprehensive.

Rod Camm

The CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training had a shocker of a year – with the vast majority of his members unjustly maligned for the VET FEE HELP mess when without them the national training system would collapse. But Mr Camm never stopped explaining that the rorting was the result of a few spivs taking advantage of failed bureaucratic oversight. He never stopped arguing for the interests of the millions of people in private training. And he never stopped engaging with the policy debate when it would have been much easier to go to ground. All year he got knocked down but he got up again.

Jane den Hollander

Deakin U is Geelong’s best shot to grow beyond its manufacturing base. But unless the university itself changes it could lose out in an environment where the old model of on-campus study competes with on-line options. VC Jane den Hollander gets both and is leading Deakin’s transformation with digital delivery, graduate career programmes and a research base in community needs. The university’s research performance points to what Deakin can deliver. When she arrived in 2010 she set 350th place in the Academic Ranking of World Universities as a goal for 2020. This year Deakin is at 182.

Alan Finkel

The Chief Scientist is a great speechmaker whose belief in the transformative power of science to improve the human experience is as engaging as it is convincing. He is also a great policy maker, demonstrated by the draft research infrastructure roadmap. He is also a powerful advocate for unpopular reform, pushing the engineering education establishment to make maths a prereq for undergraduate study. And he is prepared to do as well as discuss, with talk of an awards programme and support site for maths and science teachers in 2017. Dr Finkel worked very hard this year – here’s hoping he works even harder next. Australian science needs this bloke, hell, the country need him.

Stan Grant

Journalist Stan Grant was appointed professor of indigenous studies at Charles Sturt U this year, although it became more of a visiting professorship when he accepted a job with the ABC. This did not bother CSU, which was happy that he would “drive innovative thinking in all aspects of indigenous affairs at the university,” according to DVC Mary Kelly. To right. Mr Grant is a fine writer with much to teach the Charles Sturt community, and the country as a whole, about the still easily ignored experience of generations of indigenous Australians. This speech demonstrates why.

Emma Johnston

In May marine ecologist Emma Johnston became PVC research at UNSW, but not for long. In October she was named the university’s next dean of science, just ahead of becoming president designate of Science and Technology Australia. Professor Johnston is a poster person for the Australian ATHENA SWAN push for gender equality in higher education leadership. And she is a powerful voice for serious science, reaching out through social media, (tweets from her are not unknown) and old media – she stars on BBC/Foxtel’s Coast Australia. But won’t she find being dean dull? CMM suspects she has many ideas on ways to keep things lively.

Conor King

The executive director of the Innovative Universities Group influenced policy this year as he does every year, by letting the data do the talking. It’s why he was appointed to the performance and incentives group working on the ARC impact and engagement project. When he does go public it is to make a considered case, generally rebutting a misconceived policy panic, as he did during attacks on student centred funding this year and allegations that FEE HELP debt would soon be out of control. What he writes powerful people read.

Marcia Langton

The University of Melbourne made Marcia Langton a Redmond Barry professor this year, an honour awarded to pre-eminent staff. And quite right too. Professor Langton is an activist academic, balancing scholarship and campaigning to advance the interests of Indigenous Australians. Professor Langton goes where the truth takes her, demonstrated by her brilliant performance at the National Press Club in November when she spoke out against perpetrators of domestic violence in Indigenous communities. Professor Langton has asked questions and challenged the orthodoxy for decades and this year was no different.

Anne Llewellyn

For the seventh year in a row there were two teams of Charles Sturt University marketing comms students in the International Advertising Federation’s Big Idea competition. One of them won – making it ten wins out of 13 entries for lecturer Anne Llewellyn. Charles Sturt U has long had a great rep for teaching real world journalism and marketing comms. Year after year Ms Llewelleyn demonstrates why.

Lara McKay

The University of Melbourne marketer made last year’s list for the “Collision” brand strategy, which presented Parkville as the source of all serious research in the state (strike that, country, or possibly world). She is here again for the second stage of the campaign, 14 exhibits of research displayed on adshells around the Melbourne CBD. It’s a brilliant way of presenting research as a necessity, solving problems, improving lives, meeting needs and it’s a brilliant way of making it plain to people that UniMelbourne is where all the research happens. Did CMM mention, it’s brilliant? Big win for Ms McKay and colleagues.

Tony Peacock

If this isn’t a golden age for the Cooperative Research Centres CMM does not know his bum from bullion, the CRC applied research programme is now at the epicentre of policy planning. And yet CRC Association chief Tony Peacock keeps plugging away, just as he did when pessimists thought the whole programme was at risk, endorsing and advocating for his members and, most important, contributing to the debate on how to connect entrepreneurs and industry to universities and explaining how it is done in Asia, Europe and North America.

Peter Rathjen

All VCs have plans, but only Peter Rathjen’s can shape the future of a state. As the Hobart Mercury writes of the University of Tasmania VC, his growth strategy, “could prove transformational for this state … all sides of politics listen when Rathjen says education is the future of Tasmania.” It’s why the paper put him at number two in its list of the state’s powerful people. Professor Rathjen has federal funding to rebuild post school education in the north of the state, he has launched a range of polytechnique style products to meet market needs and he has big plans to breathe university life into the Hobart CBD. Tasmanians are watching for what will happen this year.

Belinda Robinson

The chief executive of peak higher education lobby Universities Australia had a stellar 2016 in that her members did not explode into a supernova of squabbles. But then every year is stellar for Ms Robinson who calmly keeps the peace among her many members who are united in having many different opinions. UA handled beautifully the HESP report on undergraduate admissions (see Shergold below), creating a response acceptable to all members, which also made policy sense. But Ms Robinson’s big achievements were the campaigns that presented the ideal and achievements of higher education itself as a force for good.

Thus UA launched a system-wide campaign against sexual assault on campus, which every university adopted. It continued to campaign for research funding as an engine of national growth and improvement and UA makes the case for student centred funding. That Australians drank the campus kool-aid in 2016, believing in a mass university system, has a great deal to do with Belinda Robinson and her team.

Peter Shergold

As a former head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold knows a tough task when he sees one and yet he still stepped up to chair Simon Birmingham’s Higher Education Standards Panel, which the minister asked to examine the “transparency” of university admissions. With more vested interests in opaque admission schemes than a boardroom of bond brokers this looked like trouble on a stick and yet Professor Shergold and his colleagues came up with a proposal, which was such good policy and such great politics that the various university lobbies all backed it. Yes there were losers, but university staff who gamed the admissions system to disguise real entry scores are in no position to complain.

Michelle Simmons

Fifteen years back Professor Simmons did her best to explain quantum computing to CMM – who did not have a clue what the UNSW physicist was talking about. But smarter people did then and do now, which is why government and industry are investing in the national team she leads to create a computer which would operate at a speed that finds meaning in data now too vast to process. This is science at the absolute edge of what humanity knows and Professor Simmons stands there working out what is beyond.

Colin Stirling    

Back in May Colin Stirling committed to making Flinders U one of the Australian “top ten” universities by 2025. Yes, this can mean whatever he wants but VC Stirling looks like he is game to have a go on any metric. He has already shed staff and restructured the entire university, without the usual uproar – at least publicly. In August he future-proofed Flinders for the era of innovation with a deal with Temple U of Philadelphia’s Fox Business School so that all Flinders’ undergrads will have access to at least one unit on entrepreneurship in their degree. When he arrived Flinders was dead in the water –it’s under full sail now.

Deborah Terry

Last year the Curtin VC made the list for the way she was quietly transforming the university. She makes it again for the same reason. In 2015 she secured a medical school – this year it is well on the way to opening. A year back Curtin had big plans for its broad acres (WA VCs want to be property developers). This year with state legislative approval Curtin powered on with big plans for retail and research, housing and business in an expanded campus. And then there is research, a publishing strategy emphasising quality over quantity saw Curtin continue to rocket up the Academic Ranking of World Universities, improving 88 places on 2014.

Vicki Thomson

There may be opportunities Vicki Thomson missed to explain the achievements of the Group of Eight universities in 2016 – just not in this universe. The Go8 chief executive is across every issue and is always keen to make her members’ case. But she is also a brand-builder, connecting with industry, consulting with international universities and creating opportunities. Ms Thomson was across the potential for a research commercialisation fund a year back and she will be be across whatever opportunities emerge next year.

Marnie Hughes Warrington

Professor Hughes-Warrington is your real-deal renaissance person, a philosopher of history fascinated by how universities are managed and how they can run better. As DVC A at ANU she has an ample agenda but CMM also rates her for essays (far too serious and much too dignified to be described as blogs) on university management. One on the future of the live-and-in-person lecture challenged, well upset actually, plenty of people. Another on the potential of blockchains in credit transfer started many more thinking. And exorting academics into the secret chambers where the dark arts of cost accounting are practised was advice all academic executives should take – as she (could have said) – you can’t run what you don’t understand.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au