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Forum outlines Otago strengths and challenges

Wednesday, 8 March 2017 10:40am

VC's-forum-image
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne speaks to staff at a forum at the College of Education Auditorium last Friday. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

Otago is well placed to produce some of the world’s happiest and most successful graduates, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne told staff at a forum on the Dunedin campus on Friday.

Speaking to a near-capacity crowd at the College of Education Auditorium, and also livestreamed for those who were unable to attend, Professor Hayne took the opportunity to update staff on strategic issues.

She framed her messages from a financial perspective, pointing out that while the University is not a business in the sense that it earns income for shareholders, it does need to generate an income to operate. As 75 percent of the University’s income comes from two sources – students and research – it makes sense for the University to focus on these two things, she said.

Students:

The factors which create a happy and successful graduate are also Otago’s strengths, Professor Hayne said.

She referred to the Gallap-Purdue Index, a study of more than 30,000 U.S. college graduates, which measured the most important outcomes of higher education – great jobs and great lives – and from there produced productive insights for tertiary institutions.

"That is good news for us. Often we compare ourselves with the Ivy League universities, and we have great opportunity to compete. This ‘big six’ are things that we excel at here at Otago."

Those who achieved success and happiness had six things in common at university. These were: a professor who made them excited about learning; a professor who cared about them as a person; a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams; working on a long-term project that took more than a semester to compete; holding a job or internship where they applied what they had been learning; and being involved in extracurricular activities.

“Irrespective of where a person had attended university – whether it was Harvard or East Mississippi State, their ultimate financial, social and physical wellbeing was just as high if they had experienced the ‘big six’,” Professor Hayne said.

“That is good news for us. Often we compare ourselves with the Ivy League universities, and we have great opportunity to compete. This ‘big six’ are things that we excel at here at Otago.”

Professor Hayne encouraged academic staff to learn more about their students and ensure they were available when students needed them.
“Come to work,” she said. While the audience laughed she underscored her light-hearted comment with a strong message.

“As an academic for more than 25 years I understand the privilege of lifestyle that academia gives you. But part of your job is to be here, present and ready to interact with students when they are ready.”

She also urged staff to attend convocation and graduation – “times when everyone is happy” – and get involved with extracurricular and co-curricular activities.

Research:

Professor Hayne said that Otago had a lot to be proud of in terms of research achievements.

"Our PBRF scores in 2018 will determine our PBRF funding for the next six years – so it is important that we maximise this source of income."

Last year was a “cracker year” for research success – with external research income up 20 percent to more than $100 million for the first time.

Other research highlights of the past 12 months included the creation of 13 new research themes across all four academic divisions, Otago being the top New Zealand university for Nature journal publications for the second year running, and opening a new building for the Dunedin Study.

However, with 18 months to go before Performance Based Research Funding (PBRF), Professor Hayne urged researchers to work hard preparing their portfolios.

“Our PBRF scores in 2018 will determine our PBRF funding for the next six years – so it is important that we maximise this source of income.”

Challenges:

Professor Hayne joked that she could “cut and paste” the challenges facing Otago from last year’s talk.

These included flat funding for Humanities and Commerce, the demographic decrease in domestic school leavers which translated to falling Equivalent Full Time Students (EFTS) in some departments, the fact that Government priorities and Government spending were not always aligned, and the need to maintain infrastructure including Otago’s old building stock.

“But, we are not going to cry in our soup,” Professor Hayne said

Otago’s response:

Otago would continue to work with the Tertiary Education Minister, now Paul Goldsmith, Professor Hayne said.

"It is important that every dollar of taxpayers’ money that we get we use to the best of our ability."

Otago would continue to spend carefully: “It is important that every dollar of taxpayers’ money that we get we use to the best of our ability.”

Otago would focus its activity – and continue to recruit the best and brightest students and provide them with an outstanding education and life changing experience.

It would enhance research and PBRF outcomes.

Support Services Review:

Professor Hayne briefly mentioned the Support Services Review.

The timeline she outlined saw the business case going to the steering committee in May, the Steering committee considering and discussing this in June, and implementation happening through the second half of this year.

Fixed-term contracts would continue at this stage, she said.

More forums:

Friday's forum was the first of three to be held by Professor Hayne this month. There will be another forum for Christchurch campus staff next Wednesday 15 March, and one for Wellington campus staff next Thursday 16 March.

Professor Hayne will cover campus-specific information in these forums.