Achievers: S-Z

Brian Schmidt

The ANU VC set himself up to fail with a February inaugural address that set out an enormous agenda but at the end of his first academic year he has overseen a power of work. There is a physical rebuild of ANU and resources committed to entirely new discipline areas, notably AI and cyber security. There is a new elite teacher scheme and Professor Schmidt talks of every ANU research department being in the global 100. All the changes, plus some savings to pay for them, are accompanied by not much acrimony.  And, befitting a Nobel Prize Winner he is not afraid of the big questions – in February student paper Woroni asked him if there is a place for pineapple on pizza.

Rebekha Sharkie

The NXT member for Mayo in the federal parliament did not spend a bunch of time on higher education last year but she still managed to have an impact we are yet to see the end of. In October Ms Sharkie said NXT would oppose Education Minister Birmingham’s budget package, which meant there was no point introducing it in the Senate. This was immensely significant but so was one of Ms Sharkie’s reasons. “They should look at the capping system. … We are spilling out thousands and thousands of students in areas where there is no work, and we need to make sure that we provide the best opportunities for the next generation. I don’t think we’re doing that at the moment,” she told the House of Representatives.

While demand driven funding remains government policy not all in Labor are rusted-on and there are suggestions in universities it is no needed no more. Ms Sharkie has set up a, perhaps the, big policy debate.

Adam Shoemaker

Professor Shoemaker waited a while before setting his own course as vice chancellor of Southern Cross University, but he is under full sail now. In September, he changed the logo (hard to reproduce) and dropped the motto, (“it’s all about U”) “a selfish slogan, which did not line up with the progressive, ethical and engaged nature of the university”. He has introduced new degrees and doubled the scholarship pool, giving recipients seats in his student caucus. And then a couple of weeks back he spoke out on resourcing regional universities, separate to a statement from the Regional Universities Network, which SCU belongs to.

“This proposal offers a rare opportunity to lower spending on a lifetime of welfare provision, help unemployed regional people into jobs, and create a valued regional workforce capable of building stronger regional communities,” he said.

SCU used to be easy to over-look – not any more.

Michelle Simmons

A decade back the UNSW quantum computing scientist had media attention pretty much to herself, not least she was a leader in the field and could explain what it meant in ways that hacks like CMM could (barely) understand. Today there a great many more Australian universities and scientists working to revolutionise processing speeds but Professor Simmons is still in front – for her science, how she explains it and the way she has grown into her status as a STEM role model.

In an Australia Day speech she warned the school system needed more rigour but she also celebrated her adopted country; “there is no better place to undertake research. Australia offers a culture of academic freedom, openness to ideas, and an amazing willingness to pursue goals that are ambitious. And the results speak for themselves – we have achieved tremendous success in our endeavour, largely because we gave things a go that the rest of the world didn’t dare to try.”

Colin Stirling

“We owe it to students to accelerate the pace of change,” the Flinders U VC said in January – which is what he did this year. Flinders now has a new admin structure to support its new academic organisation. Both were introduced without much pain, the result of continuing consultation and planning to prevent wholesale compulsory job losses. Management also avoided what could have been a big brawl working out a deal with the union on teaching-only positions. Professor Stirling is also investing in Industry 4.0 teaching and research, creating a future for the university and with a lot of luck, the state.

Deborah Terry

In Curtin University’s 50th year Vice Chancellor Terry looks forward. “In twenty to 30 years we will be a major internationally engaged global university,” she told CMM. IT might be sooner. In August Curtin cracked the 200 barrier in the ARWU research ranking, up from the 400-500 band in 2013. This reflects the Curtin approach, quietly calibrated for long term objectives – that Curtin now has WA’s second public university medical school is not chance. Neither are (relatively) good relations with the NTEU. Of course, Professor Terry is fortunate that the university has broad acres to turn into profitable real estate, (a site not much smaller than lower Manhattan) – but so do other WA universities which have not done as much.

Vicki Thomson

The chief executive of the Group of Eight is a warrior-intellectual, a fierce believer in elite education and happy to take on anybody who does not share her belief in the transformative power of research and teaching. Her positions extend well beyond the Group of Eight’s immediate interests, she argues that the values of education are under attack from populists and that the primacy of research is assaulted by the ignorant. She is also a formidable networker with an eye for international arrangements that advance the cause of knowledge.

Chris Tisdell

“Free videos+free ebooks = better education,” says the associate dean for education in UNSW’s science faculty. To prove his point Professor Tisdell’s YouTube learn-maths channel cracked 50 000 in May, there are 56 000 now. Enough said.

Marnie Hughes Warrington

CMM called her the “Pepys (without the prurience) of ANU” for her chronicle of the rebuilding of ANU’s campus. The university’s DVC A also writes a second series on managing universities, which is rich in insight and deeply respectful of the work that keeps the lights on, classes happening and people satisfied at work. Professor Hughes Warrington is an historian of ideas and as such obviously understands that everything about universities is interesting, you just need to recognise the challenges.

Lily Xiao and colleagues Michael Cox and Sue Stoecker

The MOOC has enormous community-service potential. Lily Xiao and her colleagues demonstrate this in their Flinders U course, via OpenLearning, on cross-cultural aged care – intended to help consumers and the 30 per cent of industry workers who come non English-speaking backgrounds. Like MOOCs on dementia (UTas) and diabetes (Curtin U), weight loss (UniNewcastle) and mindfulness (Monash U), this is a brilliant way of targeting training and empowering people to take control of issues in their lives. Yes, for-fee digital delivery is going to change how universities teach but the MOOC will extend the benefits of research and teaching across society. Attention DVCs Engagement: want to demonstrate what your academics can do for the community? Get them moving on MOOCs.

Helen Zimmerman

Ms Zimmerman is a 30-year veteran of international education and the industry association says her work is “best practise” and her leadership, “is characterised by collaboration, partnership and advocacy.” She is a long-serving Navitas executive but moves comfortably in private and public sector governance and export focused advisory and education agencies. Australia’s grasp of what its education system can accomplish for the world has changed since Ms Zimmerman was a young English-language teacher – she has played an important role in making that happen.


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