A new Strategic Plan and the strengthening of alumni and development activities are two of the key priorities of the University's new Vice-Chancellor and President, Warren Bebbington. In this Q&A, Professor Bebbington speaks about his vision for the University.
Q: You have travelled and worked in many places, what impresses you most about Adelaide?
A: Adelaide is one of the finest university towns anywhere in the world: peaceful, unpolluted, easy to navigate, filled with cafes and shops, 15 minutes from a superb beach, with the Hills and wineries not much further. The University is in a unique location, surrounded by the State's cultural institutions, flanked by the CBD and the river: it is a truly unique setting.
I am looking forward to festival time in March and seeing the city, and the University, come to life with concerts, exhibitions and events; but of course, as a Wagner-fan, I am dismayed to be arriving just as The Ring leaves for Melbourne.
Q: As a graduate of the University of Melbourne, Queens College and City University of New York, how important have those alumni connections been in your career?
A: The professional network you make as a student in a first-rate university is I think one of the greatest benefits of attending, and the number of times I have had cause to connect with fellow alumni over the years is substantial. And American universities keep in touch with their alumni constantly, so I am always very well informed about what my peers and old professors are up to, even 25 years after leaving.
Q: You led external affairs and built their development and alumni units into a leading Advancement Office at the University of Melbourne. What are the similarities and differences in Adelaide?
A: Adelaide and Melbourne are both old, traditional universities intent on transforming themselves to face new circumstances, and in that sense they are very kindred: I feel very much at home here. But Adelaide's development and alumni programs are where we were at Melbourne seven years ago: the alumni program is developing well, but there is a great deal of potential for support from alumni that has yet to be tapped here. I believe we could double our present income from donors, for example.
Q: How do you plan to strengthen the alumni and development activities?
A: With the 140th Anniversary of the University coming in 2014, it is a splendid time to be thinking about launching a major fundraising campaign. There is much in our new Strategic Plan that will excite our alumni and supporters into assisting us with the resources we will need.
Q: With alumni represented across the globe, how can a university connect with international graduates?
A: Technology is critical: and our Alumni online community is growing steadily. But we also need alumni in other countries to step forward and help us with recruitment by explaining to prospective students what life here is like; to help with welcoming new graduates back to their home country; and then assist these new graduates to connect with their professions and seek out rewarding careers.
Q: In a cyber-era, where many relationships are sustained by social media, how relevant is face-to-face networking?
A: Not even the most advanced technology-driven system will ever replace the intrinsic value of face-to-face communication at a university, or in business. It is the same with teaching: we will increasingly use online delivery to enrich our student experience, but this will not replace face-to-face contact with staff.
Q: How do you see the University interacting with the business community in the future?
A: We need to develop a "front door" for business--a place they can easily find and direct their questions and requests through, otherwise the University is a very confusing place. But we also need many, many more internship opportunities in business for our students, and I am always happy to hear from an employer interested in providing internships for our students.
Q: What is the single biggest challenge facing the University today?
Our biggest challenge is to find practical ways of realising our new vision of "small group discovery" as central to the curriculum--practical ways to ensure that every student in every year of every course can experience small-group classes in which individual skills of research are learned. In a climate of shrinking resources and huge numbers, this will not be easy.
Q: In 10 years from now I would expect the University of Adelaide to...
A: Quite simply - to be known as the most distinctive of Australian universities, set in the most civilised of cities.
story by Kate Husband