An AUA member in Melbourne…


At the AUA, we always try to give our members diverse opportunities to enhance their career and strengthen their skills. This is why we have partnered with organisations such as the Association for Tertiary Education Management (ATEM) and American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to offer you the chance to connect with like-minded individuals from across the world.

Our member, Matthew Hisbent, has applied for and been accepted to represent the AUA at the Tertiary Education Management Conference 2017 in Melbourne, organised by ATEM. Matthew gracefully accepted to write a blog for us to showcase his experience.

Day 1: Playing the tourist

Day 1 lunchtime. Walked from the hotel this morning over the bridge over the Yarra to catch the tourist tram. Melbourne is an eclectic mix of old and new and the photos that accompany this are of the dock land, the wide boulevards and Bourke street where old meets new. The new are the shops ( yippee) and the old are the buildings at the top of the hill on Spring Street. Took the 35 city circle tram ( free) from Flinders street station on the loop to dock lands and saw a lot of historical central Melbourne on the way. Time now for a shopping trip (post tea and croissant) and then some more history on the tram loop in the opposite direction. Here a few photos from my touristy day:

A mix of old and new…

It was warm and sunny and very Australian. Early morning I went to St. Kilda, their seaside suburb to sit upon a genuine Australian beach and paddle in the Southern Sea. The day was warm, the sea was cold and St. Kilda looked fabulous.

And the palm trees were just great…

Melbourne is a city of bridges and water …

After dark, a different Melbourne comes out to play around the city and along the river bank. Neon glow covers the city and the lanes ( graffiti hell during the day), buzzing with the activity from a 100 different sub cultures and ethnic party places. Among all that, you can find a good pub such as ‘The Crafty Squire’ which serves a fine range of beers and only $13 a pint….

On to more serious business...

This is official blog post #1 in which I shift from the tourist eye view of Melbourne to the Business of the day, the TEMC conference. From Saturday delegates have been arriving in Melbourne and at the start of play 912 delegates were expected, smashing last year’s record of 800+. They aren’t all in shot but this is our lovely plenary venue starting to welcome people.

Sunday evening the business part of the trip really starts to kick in as I have three sessions to look forward to. The first is the presenters’ get-together in the conference venue.

This is the first year that ATEM have used the services of a consultant to offer training to all the presenters, starting with a webinar sent over to participants before the event. The idea is to make sure that first timers are not left to their own resources in front of an audience for the first time. Following this session is a 10 minute walk along the riverside to the National Gallery of Victoria for two events. The first is the Newcomers’ Reception which, again, sets records for the number of newcomers. After a traditional welcome to country in which the original custodians of the land, the indigenous peoples, are paid respect to, there are the few welcoming speeches, followed by an hour for networking. As fate would have it, the first person I meet is a Facilities Manager who has recently returned from a stint in the U.K., designing and building student accommodation. It is the first of many new friendships.

National gallery of Victoria from the outside as we arrive for the Newcomers Reception and formal Welcome event

From the Newcomers Reception event on Sunday evening, we all moved through the gallery to join another 600 delegates in the official

Welcome event. It is difficult to convey in words how fabulous the room looked…so there is a photo below. After a short time with welcome speeches again it was on to networking big time with the other delegates. I met up with a group of colleagues from Christchurch in New Zealand and we discussed the recovery they had to undergo after the recent earthquakes.

Then came the big surprise. As part of the evening we were all invited to visit the Dior fashion exhibition which the NGV has been running. What a bonus to see the history of fabulous Dior couture displayed!

Day 2: A full day of debating and challenging...

And so to Monday: a full day ahead of debating, listening, learning and challenging, as befits the Eureka theme. After the traditional ‘Welcome to country’, an exercise designed as a challenge for us to think about Diversity and the Law in a new way.

The Conference master of ceremonies, Jason Clarke, challenged us all to think about when, how and why we have ideas and how can we all set our minds free, in order to be more creative. Challenge yourself every day by saying ‘What is my big idea?’

From there, the opening plenary was delivered by professor Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Melbourne, titled ‘Dissolving the universities? Will higher Education follow the monasteries into ruin.’ Following the history of the dissolution of the English monasteries by Henry VIII and bringing it right up to date, Glyn presented an interesting analysis and comparison to the fate of universities in the modern age. It wasn’t difficult to pick out the pertinent themes: institutions owning, using or coveting great wealth; the interference of politics and the use or misuse of political power; a failure to be agile to react quickly enough to adverse circumstances; the institutional “head in the sand” mentality. It was a lively, thought provoking opener, was followed by a panel discussion which debated the current problems facing higher education.

By the way, photography during sessions was discouraged so this photo was taken prior to the start.

Following the plenary, the Conference split up into eight concurrent sessions in block 1 and then, after a short break, eight more concurrent sessions before lunch. Because of the variety I was able to construct a theme for the first day: ‘Women in Leadership’. I chose these sessions in recognition of two things. Firstly, I am a mentor on Aurora, the women into leadership programme created by the Leadership Foundation and currently running with a new cohort at Oxford Brookes University. Secondly, I find I am being challenged more often by the managers I work with, who happen to be women, to be able to advise them on further opportunities to develop into leadership roles. It is not enough for me to be able to use a staff development budget to fund their opportunities, I need to come up with more creative ideas.

Hence, the conference sessions I chose were:

  • A3: When women are in leadership. This discussed the UNZ New Zealand women in leadership programme  as a successful model to share. It was developed in response to the fact that only 15% of senior positions in New Zealand tertiary education are traditionally filled by women.
  • B2: Leadership panel. Maturing a sense of leadership identity for tertiary education managers featuring the model of the T shaped Professional; self determination theory (autonomy, motivation and enhanced performance) and pedagogical partnerships also referencing self determination theory. 
  • C3: “Women in leadership panel: It’s a long way to the top if you start at the bottom.” I have been particularly interested through the day to follow the mentoring thread all the way through ( as I am a mentor on the AUA program back home) and I believe we do need to start earlier to nurture colleagues who do have aspirations to reach the top. The development of relevant skills sets; the assistance of a trained and an appropriate mentor and of course regular appraisals of progress are all topics which are close to my heart.


Monday afternoon began at 14:00 with a plenary entitled ‘Innovation or disruption; how technological change may impact learning delivery in Universities’ by Alex Hanson of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Alex’s talk focused on cutting edge IT, which we all know we have to embrace somehow without always understanding the context and pace of change this sector of development demands. This session had echoes of IT Programme planning board in Oxford Brookes where we review and discuss IT developments. These are sessions which have both real time and real life applicability. The big difference is that Alex was focusing on big IT questions and Mars Age technology, not just laptops and networks.

Artificial intelligence in the classroom, robot administrators on help desks with access to the answers to a thousand thousand questions, multi billion pound IT investments, changes in pedagogical approaches and all the futuristic technology you could ever want and not know how to switch on.

Can we have it all, should we have it all and what do students really want?

It was the kind of talk that either scares you because you think you will never be able to compete or excites you because you want to try it all out!

Monday night Awards Ceremony

I am going to close out Monday with my report on the ATEM awards night. This event is held in The Palladium within the Arts centre near Southgate. This is the 4th Awards Ceremony and has quickly become a popular fixture in the ATEM conference calendar. Colleagues will receive awards for a variety of projects and initiatives across the full range of professional services activities such as Marketing and Employability. The awards are woven into a dinner evening courtesy of the generous sponsors which ATEM are able to thank during the dinner. The delight on the faces of the recipients and on the faces of their teams and those of us who are just visitors is plain to see throughout the full duration of the event. It was a great thing to be part of, thanks to ATEM for the invitation! I should mention there was one special award for a scholarship of up to $10,000 dollars for a project which includes a reciprocal visit to AUA Conference in April 2018.  

Dr. Heather Davis receiving the AUA representative award (from the ATEM President) which includes support for a research project

Two friends enjoying the 2017 ATEM awards evening

Day 3: Cute animals, lobbying and the importance of saving your own patch

The second day of the conference began on a very positive note, with a morning talk by Dr. Jenny Gray,the CEO of Zoos Victoria.

Now, you might be wondering…what has a zoo got to do with higher education? Endangered species, wild animals, perennial under funding?

Probably all of the above! As an exercise in stepping outside of oneself and remembering that there are bigger problems out in the real world, and only good leadership can help us get past them, it was the perfect session.

As an example of how delays in funding and policy can have devastating effects, Dr. Gray gave us the sad example of the tiny Victoria Pipistrelle bat.


This cute little animal became endangered due to predation by giant yellow ants, an introduced species.  While the bureaucrats argued about funding, tendering and service provision, the species died out. Jenny played us a recording of the last Pipistrelle in Victoria calling into the night. When they went back to record it again, the bat was extinct…

Lest you think it was all doom and gloom, fear not because Dr. Gray was able to talk with some hope about the future of Tasmanian Devils, bandicoots, tiny frogs, snakes taking swimming lessons instead of sitting round getting fat (apparently snakes are prone to put on weight as they just lie around doing not very much – that sounds familiar!). Above it all, this was a talk  about organisational priorities, teams working well together, lobbying the powerful in politics for support and people who are very passionate about what they do.

Doesn’t that just sound like higher education professional staff?

The session also stressed the importance of being realistic about the boundaries of your effective influence and not believing you can save the world when you would do well to save your own patch. It was a real eye opener, and definitely my favourite talk of the conference.

The highlight of the day was my presentation on “Reciprocal loyalty”, based on a paper I co-authored with Emma Coles for the Leadership Foundation. I am pleased to report I had a packed room (even though it does not look it – we were not allowed to take any photographs during any sessions) and I am very grateful to all the attendees for the positive way they engaged with the talk. What was clear from their reaction was that this was a lived and shared experience, as they could all relate to the issues Emma and I are trying to raise for discussion.

We discussed issues such as parking (a massive problem for Australian universities!), travel time, open plan, academic responses to change, professional services responses to change, waste bins, flexible working and project management. Time whizzed by and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. At the start of the session I explained to the audience that not only did I come here to present and represent the AUA, but I was also looking for collaborators to work with Emma and I. Our desire is to turn this into an international study – and I am pleased to report we have five definite expressions of interest in working with us!

As I write this with a coffee in the morning, I have been approached by a number of colleagues empathising with the theme of the talk. I think I was a bit irreverent, chaotic and played fast and loose with the order of my slides, but as a late afternoon session people have told me they appreciated the style of delivery and that it was really entertaining. I will settle for that!