Q2 2020: Welcome Back to Di’s Coffee Corner!

Posted: 01/07/2020

Hello Friends and Colleagues,

No big lectures? No end-of-semester exams? What universities could look like post-pandemic. I saw this headline in Campus Review in May and it made me think about progress of change in the past 22 years that I have been working in this sector.

There have been many great advances in improving processes and services to students, but in terms of really thinking differently, there is less evidence of this. In the past 10 years one university to break free of the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ thinking has been Victoria University with its block teaching model. It’s remarkable what a university can achieve and how innovative it can become when it has limited resources at its disposal. Southern Cross University is now looking at this model also.

In 1997, when UniSA had very limited financial resources, then VC Prof Denise Bradley, along with a group of dedicated and united leaders, professional and academic, drove a decade of innovative change. You can read more about that time in my recent article in dedication of Denise’s example of leading through change at Uni SA from 1997 to 2007 here.

These two universities exemplify how much can be changed, improved, and achieved during tough times. In fact, during difficult times the luxury of thinking carefully, having sufficient funds, or ensuring everything is planned to perfection is something that just cannot happen. Thus, innovation and clever thinking is allowed, when at other times it may not be permitted.

Leading through change – navigating our new normal with hope and purpose

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the sector. If a year ago someone had said ‘next year all universities will have staff working from home, all teaching will be online and all meetings and workshops will be via Zoom,’ someone would have thought you were crazy!

There is now a golden opportunity for this sector, and universities specifically to think differently about their students, their services and processes, their curriculum and courses, staff roles and responsibilities – everything is open for innovation, improvement and change. The axis has shifted; everyone has been pushed outside of their comfort zones and the readiness for change has never been better. There is a new paradigm. Take this opportunity now, with your teams, to redesign and innovate the work that you do.

During the past 12 years DVE has delivered a range of projects in most Australian universities. We have worked with senior leaders, as well as operational teams across a range of university functional areas – student administration and services, international, research, teaching and learning, HR, IT, marketing and finance with both central and faculty teams.

The main theme emerging from this body of work is that university business processes are complex, overly manual and contain significant amounts of duplicate data, double handling and bottlenecks. Because of this, it takes a long time to approve, complete or achieve almost anything. I hear the same message repeatedly, ”We cannot make changes because…” and the reasons are focused largely in four main areas:

  1. Process barriersour processes need too many levels of approval; the time taken to complete an activity is far too long; there are too many people involved in simple processes
  2. People barriersmanagers or university leaders won’t enable or support change; staff are not trained or don’t understand how to use the systems or processes
  3. System/technology barriersour systems are cumbersome and outdated; the university does not have the module to improve this process
  4. Structure barriersour units and faculties all work in their own silos; there is no cross collaboration of ideas; we have always done it this was because we are special

No doubt some of these responses sound familiar to you!

NOW is the time to make the changes you have been dreaming about. You can ‘think and do’ Lean quite easily now because the time is ripe. The status quo has been rocked and now you can shift the university’s thinking or move your manager’s thinking to have processes streamlined and people working to their highest and best use in agile structures built on the core capability of modern, flexible systems and automated workflow.

Many people have told me they are planning improvement programs now for Q3 and Q4 as they recover, review, revise, and relaunch projects. Let us make this a time to remember for a positive outcome that benefited your university, now and into the future.  Congratulations to all of you for the hard work in providing your students with a good experience in difficult times.

Sector happenings

And here for some good news!

  • Once again, our Australian universities have performed well in the QS Rankings with 7 ranked in the Top 100 and 26 in the Top 500. The Go8 fill the top 8 places in Australia with ANU our top ranked. 30 universities improved their rankings from last year with a special mention to the University of Wollongong who climbed 16 spots to be in the Top 10 for the first time.
  • We also did well in the QS 50 Under 50 Rankings. Shout out to UTS, the University of Wollongong and QUT who were in the top 20.
  • Congratulations to CQUniversity who were recently recognised in the Educator Higher Education Innovation Report as a university helping to shape the way of universities for the future.

There have also been a number of movements in the sector, these include:

  • Helen Hume who moved from her position of Science Faculty General Manager at UTS to the Deputy Director of Operations for the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland.
  • Mark Drechsler, Associate Director, Service Delivery & Innovation at Flinders University is moving to TAFE SA to be their new Director, Student Experience.
  • Professor Duncan Bentley, currently the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Swinburne University, has been appointed as the next Vice-Chancellor at Federation University.
  • Professor Helen Bartlett, Federation University’s current Vice-Chancellor and President is moving to Queensland to lead the University of the Sunshine Coast.
  • Professor Tracy Taylor joined Victoria University to further advance women in sport research.
  • Louise Batchelor has just been confirmed as the University Registrar at Bond University.

Congratulations to you all and we look forward to continuing our work with you. Wishing you all the best through the next quarter.

Kind regards,



P.S. Remember to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter @Di1358