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Campus News : March 2010
2 Campus News April 2010 University of Wollongong 1300 367 869 www.uow.edu.au Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Rob Castle (pictured above) joined the then Wollongong University College on 1 March, 1970 as an economics tutor in the Social Sciences Division. That year the NSW Government announced Wollongong would be granted autonomy from the University of New South Wales, although it took another five years before the University of Wollongong gained its independence. Forty years on, UOW is one of Australia's leading universities with an international reputation for the quality of its teaching and the strength of its research programs. Professor Castle has an unrivalled insider's view of that journey, and has been closely involved in many of the key milestones. Throughout the 1970s he served as secretary and then president of the Staff Association and was an elected staff representative on the University Council for three years in the early 1980s. He was head of the Department of Economics from 1986-1997, and appointed Interim Dean of the Faculty of Commerce in 1995 (later becoming Dean). He chaired the Academic Senate from 1996-2000 and in 1998 was appointed Director of International Programs. Professor Castle was appointed Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic and International) in 2001 and Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2005. He also chaired the University of Wollongong in Dubai's Academic Board from 2002 until 2008. In this special report, Professor Castle reflects on 40 years at UOW: I am writing this reflection of the 40 years I have worked at the University of Wollongong from Dubai. It's a fitting coincidence as, in many ways, the University of Wollongong in Dubai exemplifies the transformation of UOW from a small college of the University of New South Wales to an internationally focused multi-campus university ranked in the top two percent of universities in the world. In 1970 the University College had approximately 1000 students and about 90 full time academic staff. The campus had been starved of funds since its inception on the current site in 1962. Staff were bitterly divided over the campaign for autonomy, begun in 1966 and only resolved in April 1970, when the State Government announced a timetable for autonomy by 1975. Teaching loads were high (don't talk to me about the good old days), the library minuscule and resources tight. How did an international, research university emerge from such inauspicious beginnings? In many ways, the ingredients for success were already there, but it took a long time for many of them to develop and mature. The public campaign for funding for the Northfields Avenue campus and the later autonomy campaign established a unique and lasting connection between the city and the University. That mutual commitment has flourished and developed new partnerships and economic development opportunities as UOW has increased its international focus. The national and international awards we have won for community engagement reflect the achievements in this area. UOW's regional base, its beginnings as a small campus community and the struggle for growth in student numbers in the '70s and '80s made student engagement a central part of the UOW culture. Student evaluations were regularly used by departments such as Economics in the late '70s and conducted university-wide in the late '80s. Opportunities for interaction between staff and students became a continuing hallmark and the University was a leader in introducing compulsory courses for staff teaching in higher education. The quality of teaching was nationally recognised in the first Quality rankings in 1994 and we have maintained and improved our position in numerous surveys and rankings since then. From the earliest days at Wollongong there were always a number of first class researchers, such as Bert Halpern, Jim Hagan and Austin Keane, all of whom built up teams of doctoral students. It took a long time, however, for a research culture to develop from an individual to institutional approach, but Wollongong was the national leader in establishing research concentrations. The result is reflected in our Australian Research Council success and now in international rankings, which in many ways have been our greatest achievement. There were always a number of Colombo Plan students (from Asian nations as part of a 'Can do' culture sets UOW apart OPINION Commonwealth program) in Wollongong especially at postgraduate level. The end of government-funded places for international students led Wollongong to enter the international student market early. Onshore recruitment and offshore programs developed rapidly and international enrolments are now over 7000 in Australia and overseas. At the time UOW entered Dubai (in 1993), a new campus was established in the Shoalhaven and five more Australian sites followed. This significantly boosted our blended learning capacities and was a driver for teaching quality and support. What enabled this transformation? I would argue that stability of leadership (just three Vice-Chancellors and three Chancellors since 1975) assisted greatly but a culture which emerged from the hard early days that you had to be quick on your feet and take advantage of opportunities became the basis for "the Wollongong Way" -- good idea, no money, but go away and make it work. It was the adaptability of staff and the leadership in identifying and taking advantage of opportunities which enabled Wollongong to grow. Staff saw change as opportunity, accepting (not always joyfully) the second Vice-Chancellor Professor Ken McKinnon's dictum that "the only one who can't benefit from change is whoever is Number One". Ironically, I believe that it was the change we weren't part of which provided the greatest opportunities for us. While the rest of the Australian university sector grappled with the amalgamations forced by the Dawkins reforms of the late '80s, UOW had already successfully been one step ahead of the game again. We negotiated and achieved amalgamation with the Wollongong College of Advanced Education (formerly Wollongong Teachers, College) in 1982. We were thus able to focus on our own business, whether it was in student services, research, teaching or internationalisation. The distraction of the rest of the sector enabled us to grow and firmly establish that culture of taking opportunities as they arose. If there is one thing that stands out for me about UOW, it is the enthusiasm and commitment of staff that has broken down barriers and seized opportunities as they have arisen. The unthinkable (for example Law and Medical Schools) has been delivered time and again and this "can do" culture gives Wollongong its special role in Australian higher education. RC Rob's reflections on four decades