Putting ideas into action – a year of tangible thinking

29 Nov 2022
Community Day 2022

A message from the VC:

Thank you to the generous editors of Inside UNSW for granting me leave to appear twice in this week’s edition.

With year-end approaching, I wanted to share a selection of some of the programs and initiatives we’ve implemented together in 2022. Many of these are in response to feedback and insights from the UNSW community. As the list grew, it became clear that my usual VC Newsletter would require much more scrolling than is user-friendly, and so I asked for a dedicated article. Mercifully, the powers that be said yes.

Thank you to all the staff who have shared their ideas with me this year, who have contributed to the Strategy 2025 Working Groups and consultation groups, and who have designed and implemented the initiatives I’ve included below. Our shared motivation for positive impact is unmistakable.

Best regards, Attila

The UNSW community shared scores of insights with the new VC in 2022 to help focus the University’s Strategy 2025 efforts; many ideas have been turned into new initiatives.

One of the first actions of incoming Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs when he arrived at UNSW in 2022 was to kick off a wide-ranging engagement process with the UNSW community and University partners. His objective was to hear ideas about the greatest opportunities for UNSW to make a difference, in line with its purpose of positive impact.

A top priority was listening to the insights of UNSW colleagues. Working with the established framework of the UNSW 2025 Strategy (a strong enticement factor in drawing the alumnus Attila back to UNSW), in March the VC launched the Ideas Hub, a website enabling staff to submit specific ideas and feedback. More than 800 submissions were made.

These insights, alongside many gleaned from Attila’s meetings with students, staff and alumni, and partners in government, industry and the community sector helped establish the six strategic Focus Areas that the VC shared at the all-staff forum in May: Improving Student Experience, Scaling Lifelong Learning, Research Excellence and Translation, Social Impact Momentum, Supporting Our People and Community, and Simplifying/Upgrading University Systems.

In the ensuing months, Working Groups dedicated to these Focus Areas have consulted widely across the University. Many of the consultations are ongoing and some (such as those related to Social Impact Momentum) have yet to start in earnest. From the more advanced Working Groups, recommendations emerged that progress the University’s objectives and address some of the ‘pain points’ identified by staff. The recommendations range from short-term, high-priority actions to longer-range proposals.

The VC’s engagement process continued concurrently. In addition to regular consultation with Division and Faculty Heads, Attila has also visited almost 40 (~80 per cent) of UNSW’s Schools this year, to better understand their work and matters that concern them (he will have visited all Schools by early 2023). Common themes are emerging from the visits. Many echo those arising from the Ideas Hub and are already in the Working Groups’ sights.

Nearing year-end, a good number of initiatives have been implemented, including measures to improve access to education, to strengthen research commercialisation opportunities, to deliver lifelong learning, and to ease University bureaucracy.

The VC was eager to share a selection of these initiatives with staff, expressing his gratefulness for both their candour and their collaborative efforts to put new programs in place.

“Everyone’s readiness to contribute their ideas, and then to develop really smart responses is mightily impressive,” Attila said. “Our shared motivation for positive impact is unmistakable.”

The Focus Areas, suggestions received and input from ongoing targeted consultations will guide the University’s efforts towards the culmination of Strategy 2025 and beyond, as UNSW pursues its vision to improve lives around the world.

Selected achievements in the six strategic Focus Areas

Improving Student Experience 

  • Introduced 75 new academic (Education Focussed) and professional (Education Developers) staff to translate the work of the Division of Education & Student Experience to the Schools and share the excellent education ideas that are being developed in the Faculties, across the Faculties. The majority will be appointed in the Schools themselves, acting as peer coaches to their colleagues and helping solve education challenges at a School level. They will also contribute to initiatives across the University including course design and new education technologies. This development will enable corporate programs to be locally supported and local solutions to be applied more broadly – a huge win for collaboration, scale, peer support and education. 
  • Coordinated focus on students’ return to campus experience. Students will return to campus (where appropriate) for T2 2023, providing an authentic, engaging, relevant, flexible learning experience. This will provide opportunities for interaction between students and academics, recognise the needs of different student cohorts, and also enhance interactivity in all on-campus teaching and learning activities.

Scaling Lifelong Learning

  • Mentem by UNSW, the workplace learning business UNSW launched in August, won an Australian Good Design Award in September. Mentem picked up the ‘Best in Class’ award in the Service Design category for the digital literacy upskilling project conducted in partnership with the Department of Regional NSW and McKinsey and Company.
  • Mentem undertook a successful end-to-end program of work with Suncorp, reskilling and enabling staff to develop critical skills that will drive process improvements, as the company implements its ‘digital first’ strategy.
  • Developed the first University-wide draft lifelong learning business case, which is being discussed by Deans and Management Board members.

Social Impact Momentum

  • Expanded the Gateway Admission Pathway and Program (GAPP) to increase participation and better reflect the broader population, enabling more students from educationally under-represented schools, diverse and low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) backgrounds to access UNSW. GAPP’s low-SES participation was 12.3 per cent in T2 2022, ahead of its incremental target. The redefined program will expand the University’s access rate to 25 per cent over the next five years for first-year students from under-represented schools and backgrounds.

Research Excellence and Translation 

  • Hosted the inaugural UNSW Research Translation Expo, showcasing 100 research projects ‘Powered by UNSW’. UNSW founders, entrepreneurs and researchers, and more than 500 visitors from businesses, investors and industry partners explored funding and collaboration opportunities. The expo demonstrated UNSW innovations and capabilities across AI, IT and Digital, Clean Energy, Economy and Society, Environment and Sustainability, Health and Biotech, and Space and Security.

Supporting Our People and Community

  • Introduced the Health and Safety Working from Home Checklist to ensure staff who are working from home (consistent with UNSW’s Flexible Work Policy) are working in an environment that recognises ergonomic guidelines for desk-based work.
  • Made $250 available per person for the purchase of appropriate equipment identified in the Health and Safety Working from Home Checklist to assist in making the working from home environment safe.
  • Hosted Community Day for UNSW colleagues and their families for the first time since 2019. Almost 4000 people registered to attend.

Simplifying or Upgrading University Systems

  • Established the Strategic Projects and Operations Team (SPOT) in the Division of Planning & Assurance.
  • Implemented a review of the University’s policies, leading the move towards a more ‘trust-based’ policy framework. The target is to produce approximately 25 overarching policies to replace the current collection of 250+ separate policy documents.
  • Separated the functions of Risk and Health & Safety to ensure proper focus on each.
  • Restructured the University-level Health & Safety Committee and approaches.
  • Commenced investment in modernising the University’s service delivery processes and systems, through the Division of Finance & Operations’ Business Optimisation Strategy. This is delivering simplified process covering a range of risks and issues associated with three aging systems of record (HR, Finance and the overlapping elements of the student system) and the constraints imposed by the current systems on new and emerging service needs.
  • Digitised certain HR forms to simplify and streamline how staff submit HR requests, how managers review and approve requests, and how the Salaries unit receives, actions and archives forms. The new forms will be launched in February 2023.
  • Addressing aged finance systems architecture, including through several University-wide initiatives over the next couple of years, including Simplifying University Systems Review (2022), Business Optimisation Strategy Phase 2 (2023), SPOT program, upgrade of New South Financials (NSF) General Ledger and related modules (2023).
  • SPOTLIGHT: Simplified the travel system. SPOT used a data-driven approach to analyse a sample of 1459 UNSW international travel trips registered this year and reassessed the existing travel risk protocols. The result is a new risk-based approach to travel risk assessment for international travel, more suited to the post-pandemic environment. 
    The new approach means that 86 per cent of trips (based on the sample analysed) no longer require the traveller to complete a travel risk assessment form or obtain approval from the Risk Management Unit to undertake international travel. Approval can now be given by the traveller’s supervisor. 
    International travel trips to the majority of low and all negligible risk-rated countries (as per the ratings given by Global 24) will no longer require a completed travel risk assessment form. The traveller’s supervisor can now approve the trip without it being referred to the Risk Management Unit. International travel trips to medium, high, or critical risk-rated countries and seven low-risk countries (as per the ratings given by Global 24) will still require a travel risk assessment form to be completed and approval to travel from the Risk Management Unit. This equates to approximately 14 per cent of international trips. Find out more at MyTravel@UNSW.

Themes arising from the School visits

I’ve visited almost 40 (around 80 per cent) of our Schools so far. The visits have been a tremendous way to hear about the issues that are important and what makes staff proud of their School. Common themes are arising as my visits continue, some of which I’ve summarised here. Thank you to everyone for being welcoming and forthcoming. I’m looking forward to visiting all our Schools by early next year and to continuing to address pressing issues as we work towards our shared vision of improving lives around the world.

The most prevalent theme across the School visits so far is a commitment to the direction of UNSW and our impact on the world. Our Schools demonstrate remarkable pride in their research translation, graduate outcomes, social impact, and impressive global rankings. They have a common desire to reduce systematic barriers to the real-world impact of their teaching and research.

Various recurring thoughts have emerged in the School visits on how we can do this. A common question posed is how we can streamline University processes to reduce the administrative workload on academic staff. Staff want to reduce bureaucracy and the internal challenges of attaining grants, working through policy, and navigating our IT systems.

The investment of our staff in the experience of their students has been very notable. Staff are immensely proud of their students’ diversity, their success in industry and their impact on society. Staff are concerned about keeping students engaged in a hybrid learning environment, ensuring they see the value of coming back to campus to collaborate and build relationships, that they have the resources to succeed, the impact of 3+ and tackling the mental health challenges that students are presented with.

Collegiality and inclusivity within Schools has come through strongly. Many colleagues identified a culture of support within their Schools that came to the fore during the COVID period. They also identified that this is something we can work on across the University, reducing silos and improving cross-faculty communication so we can all benefit from each other’s expertise: there is untapped potential to work across UNSW in a more interdisciplinary manner.

Our strength in research translation and collaboration with industry was also highlighted across many Schools, recognising we could do even more by reducing some of the systemic barriers and further improving our relationships with governments.