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Lumen Autumn 2017 Issue
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From the Vice-Chancellor: Facing the winds of change

Former Vice-Chancellor Warren Beddington

Outgoing Vice-Chancellor Warren Bebbington
As Vice-Chancellor Professor Warren Bebbington concludes his five-year term, he reflects on what lies ahead for the University of Adelaide.

Of my 40 years in universities, I cannot think of a moment that ever presented as many challenges and opportunities as the present one. The next few years will sorely test the resilience of the University’s mission and values as it faces new circumstances on every front.

Change will be far-reaching. Across Australia, students will increasingly travel interstate to a university of their choice rather than defaulting to their local campus. Indeed, already major eastern state universities are intensively recruiting students in our Adelaide schools.

Students from China and India seeking to study abroad will increasingly outnumber the flow we have had for 40 years from South East Asia, but the strong position Australia has enjoyed as a destination for them will be increasingly challenged by energetic recruitment campaigns by first-class universities in Europe and Asia.

Meanwhile, untold numbers around the world will seek access to university education, not by travelling abroad, but by enrolling from their own countries, free and online, through the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

At the same time, our governments will increasingly look to universities for innovation and ideas that will grow national economic prosperity in the post-mining boom era, as well as for great numbers of the digitally-savvy graduates they see in ever greater demand in the workforce.

To confront all this will be the great challenge ahead for the University of Adelaide. But we need not lose heart, for we are well prepared: with our international ranking position now in the top 150 universities of the world in all three of the major ranking tables, we have never been so attractive to international students.

Through ‘small group discovery’, greatly enhanced by online learning resources, we now offer a unique learning proposition, distinct from many others and a far cry from the massed, impersonal lecture experience common on many larger Australian campuses.

To ensure our uniqueness becomes known, we are ramping up our recruitment activities. We are piloting our first interstate recruitment campaign this year, and also launching a new international recruitment roadshow, our first to the leading schools in India.

In the MOOCs, through the leading global provider edX, we've now had over 400,000 enrolments from over 200 countries registered for online units with us – and I confidently predict we will reach one million students through MOOCs by the end of 2018. We are becoming a major player in this emerging global phenomenon of digital learning.

Increasingly too, we are offering state-of-the art facilities to our students. Our new Health and Medical Sciences building, opened near the new Royal Adelaide Hospital a few weeks ago, is the largest building we have ever built. It incorporates our Medical and Nursing Schools and the new Adelaide Dental Hospital and is the latest example of our physical transformation. And over the next few years, once stage one of our new 20-year masterplan is commenced, we will offer new buildings for Law, Business, Economics, Arts and Music, as well as enhancements at Waite and Roseworthy.

Addressing the National Innovation and Science Agenda head on, a new innovation hub, ThincLab Adelaide, will be opened mid-year, bringing researchers, business and financiers together in partnerships to translate our discoveries to the world. This will later develop into a new 8000 square-metre building at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site. And our new commercialisation arm, Adelaide Enterprise, is also driving licensing and start-ups rapidly ahead.

But how do we ensure that each change will strengthen the University? In our age of globalisation and rapid change, it has not been universities attempting to adapt to fashion and fad that have flourished. It has been those universities of strong identity, who are clear about their mission and values, and have projected a strong sense of geographical and cultural place.

In the Beacon of Enlightenment strategic plan, we have articulated the historic roots, mission and values of the University of Adelaide more strongly than ever before. It is a great basis against which to test whether changes we propose to make align with what the University stands for. I wish the University wisdom as it faces the future.

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