THE role of a university vice-chancellor is that of chief executive officer, ultimately responsible for university activities, affecting the quality of life of future generations as well as the immediate prospects of clients.
These activities rely on the receipt of millions of dollars from industry, governments, and investments, and the fees charged for some academic and research services.
Hence, each vice-chancellor must keep abreast of all areas of university involvement, but also be focused on future direction and strategy, so as to promote the university’s prospects on all fronts.
Anything that gives the university an edge in one area, or highlights a unique quality, is not just pertinent, but vital to a vice-chancellor, as the public face of the institution.
Murdoch University’s recent public profile announcements have included a WA Citizen of the Year award for chancellor Geoffrey Bolton, a high national ranking in the latest round of Australian Research Council grants, and new accreditation for the veterinary school.
The Murdoch school is the first Australian veterinary school to be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, enabling students who receive a Murdoch qualification to practise in North America.
Murdoch University vice-chancellor John Yovich says the university has three main priorities for moving forward – establishing a new campus south of Perth, maintaining and growing research intensity, and diversifying income sources from endowments through to greater business links.
Murdoch has been successful in attracting increasing enrolments in many areas, Dr Yovich says, because of its flexible study path options.
This continued even when there was a drop in the popularity of arts courses in the second half of the 1990s, he told WA Business News.
Murdoch, which first opened in 1974 for post-graduate students only, has also become well-established as a research institution.
A second campus, at Peel, will be operational in 2005, an indication of the university’s growth success and its ability to attract funding.
The Federal Government’s higher education reform package is still being analysed by universities nationwide, and the reforms are yet to be passed by parliament, but benefits and concerns have already been identified by the State’s universities.
Some universities are hailing possible new flexibilities, but Dr Yovich says one issue for Murdoch concerns previous block grants now becoming allocations for specific programs, some calculated on the number of students in each.
However, the university will be certain to benefit from teaching and equity issues funding, he says.
WA universities in general need to receive a larger proportion of government-subsidised places, Dr Yovich says.
As with all universities, Murdoch’s ability to attract full fee-paying international students is important in the funding mix, but this is not the whole story, according to Dr Yovich.
Having international students benefits the university’s overall growth and facilities provision, but also adds to the community mix, and is an important part of exchange programs.
Murdoch now has students from more than 50 overseas countries.
University of Notre Dame Australia is WA’s newest university, established in 1990. But its uniqueness does not stop there.
Located on the coast, in Fremantle, Notre Dame has already opened a second campus, in another popular and growing coastal location, Broome.
Notre Dame has also secured its first medical training places .
Enrolments have risen by 40 per cent and 34 per cent in the past two years, and Notre Dame is aiming to increase its current student population by almost 60 per cent by 2010.
Fifteen per cent of Notre Dame’s 3,200 students come from 38 overseas countries, the greater proportion of these from the US, East Africa and China.
The private Catholic institution, which receives both public and private funding, is looking to benefit from the Federal Government’s proposed new student loan scheme.
Notre Dame vice-chancellor Peter Tannock says the university is pleased with this and other proposals.
Under the loan scheme, fee-paying students will not be required to repay a fees loan until they begin earning an annual $30,000.
Dr Tannock says major challenges for an institution as young as Notre Dame include maintaining growth in a competitive marketplace, and continuing to deliver a high quality product in a high-cost sector.
Within Australia, people are still coming to terms with the notion of private universities, Dr Tannock believes. However, built on an innovation out of the private school tradition, a lot of high growth will come, he says.
"It is still early days," Dr Tannock told WA Business News.
Being a Catholic university adds another major goal, that of being faithful to the spirit and philosophy of the church and its institutions, and all undergraduates are required to enroll in ethics, philosophy and theology units.
The university also maintains a social justice and community service centre, from which students are currently working with disadvantaged people in East Timor and the east Kimberley.
Curtin University of Technology vice-chancellor Lance Twomey says the university is unique for its application of technology as a tool for all endeavours, including humanities, art and design and business.
Founded in 1967 as the Western Australian Institute of Technology, and achieving university status in 1987, Curtin is considered comparatively young within Australia, and globally.
However, the university is keen to earn the tag of one of the world’s best universities of technology, largely through its industry partnerships in research.
Partnerships with other universities inside Australia and overseas are also important towards this end.
Of all the WA universities Curtin has the most comprehensive rural exposure, in Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany, Northam and Geraldton, and soon to be in Margaret River and the Pilbara.
In partnership with the government there, Curtin has also invested $100 million in a campus in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Within the next decade, the university may also establish two further international campuses, Professor Twomey says.
Curtin accounts for almost 60 per cent of WA’s export in education, and one in every three of its 20,000 students is from overseas.
It has Australia’s fourth largest international student population, from 90 countries, but is not content to stop there, targeting new overseas student growth in the Middle East, China and the southern portion of the former Soviet Union.
The university has a "huge research emphasis in oil and gas", Professor Twomey points out – one reason for the Sarawak campus – and has 450 masters students worldwide in a Shell-linked program.
Curtin has a number three Australian ranking for income from industry research and development contracts. Current industry and government agency partnerships include long-term alliances with Australia Post, BankWest, Optus, Woodside, Rio Tinto, the WA Department of Industry and Resources, and CSIRO.
Several changes to Federal Government funding arrangements are viewed positively at Curtin, with more money available for regional and Aboriginal students (of which Curtin has 500), and from student and HECS fees.
Curtin will not be introducing full fees for Australian students, Professor Twomey says.
However, industrial reforms based around workplace agreements could be an issue and international student reforms, if passed, would prove detrimental.
Some rationalisation is also ongoing, with expensive and subsidised podiatry courses to be phased out.
Edith Cowan University vice-chancellor Millicent Poole also lists business and educational partnerships as critical to the university’s identity.
ECU’s new Joondalup campus incorporates the WA Police Academy, in conjunction with both ECU and the West Coast College of TAFE, the collaboration is believed to be a world first. ECU will also set up an $11.5 million international microchip testing facility, based at its Joondalup campus.
ECU’s focus on identifying opportunities in priority or high growth areas such as nursing, education, communications, environmental studies, law and security and entertainment and culture is also unique, Professor Poole says.
"Our success stems from the niches that we offer," she says.
ECU’s major challenges include the completion of a major restructure, moving from five campuses into just three – Joondalup, Mount Lawley and the South West campus in Bunbury.
Just past its 10th anniversary as a university, the former WA College of Advanced Education is developing critical mass, in partnership with a career-focus image.
With Joondalup identified as one of the top-three suburban growth regions in Australia, ECU is aiming to double its Joondalup student population by 2020.
Last year, ECU was listed as the first-preference choice for 34 per cent of Year 12, the highest of WA’s public universities.
The university is also aiming to double its research income.
Public recognition for university personnel, including Professor Poole, is also undoubtedly raising the research profile of ECU.
Professor Poole is one of a six-member committee appointed to review collaboration between Australia’s public universities and publicly funded research agencies, as part of the Federal Government’s higher education reform package.
And last year, ECU associate dean for research and higher degrees, Linda Kristjanson, was named Australian Telstra Business Woman of the Year, in recognition of pioneering palliative care research.
Professor Poole says her university will be closely considering market sensitivity in relation to fee setting in the proposed new higher education funding arrangements.
WA’s oldest university, the University of Western Australia, is benchmarking itself against "the rest of the world" on all fronts, vice-chancellor Deryck Schreuder says.
"Our aspiration is to be in the top-50 universities of the world,” he says.
Strong demand for its undergraduate courses means UWA has some of the highest cut-off entrance scores in Australia.
It needs more places, Professor Schreuder says, and is aiming for 20,000 students, with significant growth expected also in professional masters and PhD programs.
The university is proud of its top-three Australian ranking in its ability to secure research grants, but one challenge remains – to secure money that is untied, Professor Schreuder says.
To operate at a world-class level, the university needs a certain critical mass of staff and infrastructure linkages.
Over the next decade it is expecting high growth in industry and business links, forming new partnerships and collaborative research across several industries.
The new Motorola building from which several hundred company engineers will work is one example of such links, Professor Schreuder says.
Recently, UWA has been granted an extra number of medical training places, and a team of law students won an international debating competition.
These events, and the Motorola recognition, go some way to achieving further international recognition, something Professor Schreuder says is critical for each of the State’s universities.
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