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Autumn 2015 Issue
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Bruce Lines has big plans for campus

Mr Bruce Lines

“The University is financially very sound, it is making the right kind of investments in IT, and its financial and infrastructure plans are all solid.” - Mr Bruce Lines
Adelaide native Bruce Lines is home after decades in Queensland and Canberra. He’s back to manage operations for one of the state’s biggest businesses, with almost 4000 staff (full-time equivalent), 26 000 clients and a $950 million budget – its premier university.

Mr Lines took-over in December, becoming the University of Adelaide’s Chief Operating Officer and Vice-President for Services and Resources. He’s glad to be back and delighted to be taking over at a university where the challenges are about improving on excellence rather than repairing poor performance.

“The University is financially very sound. It is making the right kind of investments in IT and its financial and infrastructure plans are all solid,” he says.

But he acknowledges the University of Adelaide, like all others, faces uncertainty and must be ready to adapt, and fast, to an increasingly competitive environment, especially, he says, if government decisions mean students find themselves paying more to study.

It’s a challenge he has the experience to meet. Mr Lines began his higher education career as a University of Queensland faculty manager at the turn of the century before moving to the University of Canberra in 2003, where he started as Academic Registrar. When Stephen Parker became VC in 2007 he charged Mr Lines with leading a range of projects to repair the University of Canberra’s then struggling finances. Mr Lines became Vice-President of Operations in 2009, managing the budget and leading the University’s administration.

But just as he has moved to a much bigger university he is now facing much larger challenges as the education environment changes and Adelaide has to expand its research base, improve teaching service and student support, and improve the quality of campus life.

For a start, the University must continue to capitalise on its standing as one of the Group of Eight research-intensive institutions, investing in the immensely expensive infrastructure needed to conduct high-end research, serve its mission to the state, and achieve its aspirations to perform at the top of international rankings.

But, he warns this is not all that is needed. “We must not lose sight of the possibility that in the future students could be paying increased dollars and will expect improved services,” Mr Lines says.

So it is good that the University is already implementing the small-group discovery experience (SGDE) teaching model, which Mr Lines is convinced “is crucial to the student experience”.

But ensuring the SGDE model has the necessary resources creates new complexities for the University’s administration. For a start, there is ever increasing demand for IT services like mobile apps and bandwidth. While some universities assume the internet is for off-campus students, the University of Adelaide ideal is for them to be online while on campus. They watch lectures, read course material, and communicate about coursework to enable the small classes where they will participate in intensive teaching. “We are still a very face-to-face institution,” Lines says.

This means ongoing investment in already strong IT infrastructure and a change in the size of classrooms to give the students great small group classroom augmented by electronic access to University resources.

The University is in good shape to accomplish this, already having commenced a concerted effort to improve performance. But there is no denying that it requires a large and continuing investment in resources. “We have moved from a poor rating to an excellent one on national surveys of staff and student satisfaction with IT. While we are putting most teaching content and lectures on-line there is also a lot of work we can do to make the students’ administrative interaction with the University better and this will depend on both IT and process improvement,” Mr Lines says.  

For example, Mr Lines says the University needs to respond to student demand for services available via mobile devices – phone and tablet – “they expect to be able to view their next class, use a campus map and change details of their enrolment via phone,” he says.

With students listening to lectures online while physically interacting with academics in small classes theUniversity also needs to invest in new configurations of teaching space. “We need to refurnish our infrastructure,” Mr Lines says. And he is committing to “spending less on big spaces”.

This isn’t the only change needed to make the campus more student-centric. Mr Lines puts it frankly, “many parts of campus are a bit too quiet”.

“The main campus is just off the centre of the CBD but it isn’t a destination in and out of itself, and there are parts that are isolated and under-utilised.  We need more nodes to draw people in,” he says.  

This will require scarce capital, especially given the demands of the planned involvement in the new medical precinct and the recently announced dental clinic but student-focused facilities are essential given their increasing expectations.

This all puts pressure on the University to provide services as economically as possible and Mr Lines signals work to come on the structure of administrative services. “There is scope to look at organisational design principles, structure and where services are located, what should be centralised or de-centralised.”

“We need to provide good value for money, with our best service models and practices replicated across all professional support areas – of course this is easy to say but hard to do,” he says.

But he certainly is going to have a go. “At the end of the day the University of Adelaide has an obligation to find every dollar it can to spend on teaching, research and the quality of the student experience.”

Finally, he is very conscious of the University’s essential role in the state economy and keen to see it connect more with government. “Universities and governments in general are notorious for not working together but there is potential here for the University of Adelaide and state government to work together on developing the industries of the future,” Mr Lines says, pointing in particular to health and medical research, science and technology. In Mr Lines’ view, the University is a key ingredient to the future success of South Australia and he is keen to see the University of Adelaide have a seat at the table when it comes to the economic development of the state.

“The University has a lot to contribute as a partner in the endeavour of economic development; it is after all a significant generator of the new knowledge and technologies which will form the foundations of the industries and sectors to come.”

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