“I am listening.”

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Grapeshot gets answers from Macquarie’s Vice Chancellor on all of MQ’s burning questions

Words | Katelyn Free

2020 has already well and truly left us unable to see straight. Starting off with nothing less than blistering heat, bushfire devastation, a worldwide health epidemic and a panic-inducing amount of eStudent crashes and enrollment issues. Things are already starting to look a tad like a royal shitshow in the making. So, Grapeshot turned to The Man himself, our very own Vice-Chancellor, Professor Bruce Dowton, to try and make sense of the mayhem around us (and to get to know him a little bit better of course). So enough from us, on to the interrogation!

First off, did you make any new year’s resolutions?

“The Christmas and New Year break for me is always a time for reflection. I like to reflect on the year past, and how to best approach the new year ahead. I don’t do new year’s resolutions as such. I am always striving to look at things in a new way or from a new perspective, so in a way, this is my new year’s focus. Reading allows me to understand situations from different points of view.”

“Unfortunately, as you know we are experiencing an unprecedented summer and the impact to our environment is immense. So many of the community have experienced such loss. Our fauna and flora have suffered greatly. All of which brings perspective to what we are here to do.  It highlights the importance of community, and the role of universities in helping build resilience. It also shines a light on the steps that are needed to care for the future of our nation, and how we equip our students with skills for the future.”

What are you excited about for 2020 (personally, and for Macquarie)?

“This is an important time for Macquarie.  As we commence a new decade, the environment in which we operate is shifting dramatically. For many universities it brings opportunities and challenges, and we are no exception. For Macquarie it brings us opportunities to renew our University community focus and to accelerate our progress towards realising our potential, and to commit to new ways of working.”

“For me personally, I am excited about approaching the new year with renewed areas of focus in education and research, learning and teaching methodology, as well as renewing our campus, technology and ways of working across the breadth of the Macquarie community. This means working closely with all our stakeholders.”

What challenges do you foresee arising in 2020 for Macquarie, especially with the changes brought in by MQ 2020?

“2020 will also be a year where we need to pull together as a diverse community to achieve more in a shifting landscape, and for us to recognise areas where we must be open to change. Macquarie is known for our innovative and unconventional approach to learning, to problem solving, to defying convention.”

“Macquarie has always chosen a path of institutional distinctiveness, quality and innovation. In order to continue with those aspirations, we need to adapt to the reality of what is happening in the higher education sector and around us.”

“A constant for this year will be change. However, I would like to emphasise that the success of our students will always be the cornerstone on which we make decisions.  Having put a lot of work into MQ2020, I believe we will begin to see the rewards of that work in the year ahead with a clearer and easier to navigate approach for our students to their educational programs.”

Macquarie has been criticised in the past for acting more like a business than an educational institution. This view has followed through to many of the curriculum and staffing changes that were made under the MQ 2020 program. What is your response to this criticism?

“Ultimately my role as Vice-Chancellor is to guide the University’s actions to ensure our focus remains on delivering a transformative, research-enriched learning experience for our students. Any changes made to structure and processes within the University are made to drive specific sustainable actions that have the greatest impact to our students, and ensure they are equipped with the right skills that prepare them for their chosen careers now and into the future.”

“In a way we are like a business, we are a large complex institution with many moving parts.  We are fortunate to have thousands of remarkable and very dedicated staff to deliver the best learning experience possible and to engage in cutting-edge research.  We also need to keep up and adapt to what is happening around us, to maximise changes in technology, and drive the University forward.  In this regard we are like most Australian universities. We are working to ensure the wonderful culture of an inclusive and engaged Macquarie community is preserved, at the very same time as dealing with the reality that we are a large complex institution that has to be managed effectively and efficiently.”

Considering the outcry and protests that arose from the decision to abolish the Faculty of Human Sciences, what is Macquarie doing to make sure that the voices of students and staff are being heard when executive level decisions are being made?

“Change is never easy and getting to this point has not been a simple journey. I value the insights from our students and staff. In fact, all our stakeholders, alumni, industry partners, community groups etc. Without you, there is no us. I am listening.”

“In late 2019, the Executive Group agreed the need for a more detailed operating plan which would focus our attention and accelerate progress towards our vision for 2020-2024. A new operating plan is being developed that sits within the original strategic framework set out in Our University: A Framing of Futures. It will include specific priorities and initiatives to address the University’s key areas of focus in the immediate, short-term and long-term.”

“I will soon be leading a series of engagement activities across the University to develop and refine priorities.  As part of these activities I will be consulting with students via a series of focus groups in March. I continue to meet with members of the Student Representative Council (SRC) and welcome their engagement on the context for change, as well as their input on broader student communication. I also feel it is vital to involve our students in the way we deliver our courses.”

Finally, MQ 2020 has already resulted in a lot of students encountering significant difficulty continuing in their courses and enrolling for this semester. Students have transferred universities as a result of the changes. What is your response to student discontent towards MQ 2020?

“Updating and transferring all our students to a new curriculum in one year was ambitious, but true to Macquarie University’s reputation for innovation. Ambitious, but important to ensure we offer our students the best units and courses to prepare them adequately for their future careers.”

“Having said that, implementing something of this scale and complexity has not been without issue. MQ2020 has involved a number of changes to our units, courses and ultimately each of our students’ study plans.  As you know, students don’t follow one path to complete their courses, therefore study plans are varied and require customised changes to ensure the best academic study path for each of our students.”

“More than 20,000 continuing students have already enrolled for study this year, and a large proportion of the commencing student cohort has also enrolled. It is true the changes associated with MQ2020 have resulted in some students facing additional challenges during enrolment. In some cases, the instability of some IT systems compounded these issues. I apologise for this, however would like to assure our students that those issues have been addressed. Our staff continue to provide assistance and support as required.  We are well on the journey of improving our infrastructure of digital support and that will continue this year.”

“Throughout the implementation period we have worked to make the transition as seamless as possible for our students. As we get closer to the start of session, we have employed more resources to ensure our students have what they need to succeed in their studies. The extensive planning that went into this project has resulted in the majority of our students being moved to the new curriculum before enrolment opened.”

“Throughout the implementation of MQ2020, we have continued to communicate with our students to keep them informed and to resolve any issues as they arise. We have support initiatives in place, which are managed by the Registrar’s portfolio in collaboration with the Faculties, to ensure students can access information and personalised help as and when they need it – face to face, via phone or online.”

“Would we do it again? Yes, this kind of refresh is essential to ensure students get the most of their time on campus and in their careers. Our new curriculum has been designed in a way that ensures the flexibility we need to provide courses and units that are current, and that will set up our students for future success. Student success underpins every decision we make and was the driving factor behind this transformation.”

Well there you have it kids, take from that what you will. Macquarie IS kinda run like a business, MQ 2020 has resembled a bit of a dumpster fire thus far (by Bruce’s own admission) and our Vice Chancellor doesn’t make new year’s resolutions! Who would’ve thought? Guess you won’t be running into him at the university gym anytime soon.

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