Returning to The University of Queensland as Chancellor is like returning to a place that felt like a second home when I was a boy and young man.
Without UQ, I doubt my family would have settled permanently in Australia. My India-born parents and their nine children moved from Kenya to Newcastle in 1964, during the White Australia era. We relied on my father’s two-year visa until UQ offered him a job, and so enabled us to stay in this wonderful country. UQ has been part of my family’s story ever since.
After a few months as Chancellor, I am solidifying my views on how the position fits into the broader challenges faced by Australian universities. The line between the responsibilities of Chancellor and Senate, and those of the Vice-Chancellor, is the line between governance and management.
Similar to a Chair in the corporate sector, the Chancellor assists in setting the strategic direction, looking at the medium- and longer-term challenges facing the institution, and focusing on some of the key external relationships, while the Vice-Chancellor (like a Chief Executive Officer) is authorised to run the organisation.
This requires a campus culture where ideas can be debated and contested with vigour and civility – without the straitjackets of political correctness.
But Australian universities also need a business-like focus and a sustainable funding model, especially as government funding has declined relative to total university expenditure. Inevitably I think the model will involve a greater proportion of international students, closer partnerships with Australian and global industry, and a much larger (and hopefully more philanthropic) role for alumni.
In my view there is no more important time for UQ and other universities to contribute to national and global conversations about our future, because we are at an inflection point in history.
Nationally and globally, our ability to rise to challenges will depend on the clarity of our thinking and of our national strategies, and both will rely significantly on how well we inspire and enable university students to make great contributions.
Inspired students become inspiring alumni, and I am meeting many such people in my new role. Courting the Greats was a revelation, and I have been awed by the prowess of UQ Olympians and Paralympians. You can read about them, and other remarkable alumni, inside Contact.
Peter Varghese AO, Chancellor