Engagement Australia Symposium November 2018

Engagement Australia Symposium November 2018

The 2018 Engagement Australia Symposium themed ‘Critically Engaged Universities of the Future’ saw 60 senior leaders in university engagement come together in Brisbane from all over Australia and New Zealand.  The Symposium, hosted by the Australian Catholic University on their Brisbane campus in partnership with Flinders University, heard from some of Australia’s leading experts about new models of university engagement developed by leaders of the sector, by the sector and for the sector.

Professor Sharon Bell Deputy Vice Chancellor (Strategy and Planning) WSU, delivered the Symposium’s opening Keynote Address informing delegates that the sector is currently in need of its own ‘song’ as well as a concerted effort to try and sing from the same hymn sheet.  Critically engaged universities need to use their voice in harmony to rise to the ‘grand challenges’ of our time, embracing these with a new form of optimism.  In so doing Professor Bell argued strongly that we must become ‘reformers of love’ – rejecting often cruel and dystopian narratives of disruption provided by others that may debilitate our common goal to produce ‘citizen scholars’ capable of engaging with the Big Issues in our society such as inequality.  Professor Margaret Sheil AO, Vice Chancellor and President of QUT, highlighted the need for the sector to find ‘unity in our diversity,’ pointing out that too many universities are opting not to sing the same song.  Such an approach has fueled ‘disunity’ in the sector and as a result we currently find ourselves in the unenviable position of not being ‘loved’ by governments of any level.

In such circumstances universities are becoming more reliant on their communities.  However, our understanding of what makes a community in the 21st Century is changing.  Professor Martin Betts, Deputy Vice Chancellor Engagement, Griffith University, stressed the importance of supporting local communities.  Great global universities need to be great at being local first and foremost.  The partnership Griffith forged with the Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast earlier this year generated a ‘hard’ legacy in terms of real outcomes for the community around infrastructure however this deep partnership also created a ‘softer’ legacy in relation to changing the culture of the University itself; Griffith’s swift response to the myriad of demands that go along with being the Principal Partner for one of the world’s greatest sporting events over a period of years undoubtedly helped to build on an already strong culture within the University.

The Hon. Verity Firth updated the audience on UTS’s innovative Social Impact Framework which was being rolled out and had positioned UTS as a leading ‘agent for social change.’  She argued such frameworks adopted by universities needed to be rooted in relationship and partnership foundations. Verity was joined by Professor Andrew Vann, Vice Chancellor and President of Charles Sturt University to launch the Carnegie Engagement Classification Australian pilot at the Symposium.  This pilot will see up to 10 universities across the nation (one quarter of the sector) adopt and adapt the Carnegie international ‘gold standard’ for benchmarking engagement.  To quote Verity…

“…this global system has the right soul for our sector here in Australia…”

The Symposium hosted an international webinar with Professor Marshall Welch who had been instrumental in shaping the Carnegie system for Brown University – particularly relevant now that Brown University is partnering with the Australian pilot group led by UTS and Charles Sturt universities.

Delegates at the Symposium also heard from key speakers about the specific challenges and opportunities for regional universities.  Professor Mark Harvey, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation) USQ and Mr. Ben Roche Vice President Engagement SCU highlighted the specific challenges for universities located in the regions which required them to be open to new ideas, building on sustainable business opportunities through the principles of ‘co-design and co-creation’ of new knowledge with their key stakeholders.

As the host University, ACU’s Professor Sandra Jones, Pro Vice Chancellor Engagement concluded the event’s key presentations highlighting her own University’s distinctive mission to target marginalised and disadvantaged communities through a range of engagement strategies including the core curriculum – a requirement for all 35 000 students.

Most importantly the Symposium gave participants the opportunity to consider these and other new models of engagement; to network with like-minded peers and importantly to contribute to the evolving agenda around engagement as well as the future direction for Engagement Australia in 2019 and beyond.

The Symposium also launched the 3rd Edition of Australia’s engagement journal Transform: the Journal of Engaged Scholarship which captures in detail many of the contributions made during the event.  The new edition of the journal and all of the presentations mentioned above can be found on Engagement Australia’s website at https://engagementaustralia.org.au/resources/conference-documents/

The success of the 2018 Critically Engaged Universities Symposium means that we end this year on a ‘high’ -reclaiming the ‘public good’ ground for the sector we all cherish as we attempt to find ‘unity in diversity’ through our own song.  As we look to the New Year our commitment to you is that Engagement Australia will continue to play a central conducting role in the evolving engagement agenda by:

  • providing and inspiring leadership;
  • developing capacity and future leaders;
  • enabling peer-learning;
  • providing practical tools and tips; and
  • providing a platform for collaboration and knowledge creation

We would like to call on you to respond and share in this exciting agenda over the coming year.  If your institute isn’t a current member you will find details of how to become a member via our website https://engagementaustralia.org.au/become-a-member/