In conversation with: Prof. Barney Glover AO

Rebecca Pham

The VC of Western Sydney University says the university is there as an advocate for its region as massive new developments bring sweeping change to the area.

The article was originally published on Campus Morning Mail, Author: David Myton

There was a time, and not so long ago, when the people of the vast reaches of Western Sydney were reduced to a stereotype. They were “Westies” and, as the stereotype would have it, they inhabited a bleak, rough and tumble Sydney seemingly so very different from the prosperous and privileged northern and eastern suburbs.

Well, that was then and this is now and that stereotype – any stereotype – captures nothing of the essence of today’s West. It’s one of the most richly diverse areas in Australia, home to more than two million people comprising 170 nationalities, with the population projected to reach three million by 2036.

Big things are happening there. The NSW State Government plans to develop two connected, inter-related cities – The Central City District, centred on Parramatta and Olympic Park; and the Western Parkland City District including Campbelltown, the Hawkesbury, Liverpool, and Penrith. New rail links are planned, and road infrastructure expanded and upgraded.

And work has already begun on perhaps the most significant development, the new Nancy-Bird Walton Airport at Badgerys Creek – an “aerotropolis” envisioned as a catalyst for economic growth.

Bang in the midst of all this is Western Sydney University with its 10 campuses in Sydney, some 45,000 students, 3,300 staff and a vision “to secure success for our students and the Western Sydney region through innovation and discovery in a dynamic and technology-enabled world”.

“This is a very dynamic region and will be for some time,” says Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Barney Glover AO.

“We are here for our region, and we need to be very conscious of the connections we have, and the responsibility we have to support every part of that region.”

WSU has joined forces with three other universities that form the NUW Alliance – University of Newcastle, UNSW Sydney and the University of Wollongong – to create a collaborative “multiversity” centred on the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis with the goal of delivering world-class innovative teaching and research centred on science, technology, engineering and maths.

“There’s a very interesting set of new partnerships models emerging between universities in the west,” Glover says. “We can achieve a great deal for our region working in collaboration with other universities that compliment our strengths and share our vision.”

University management and leadership

Glover – who served as chair of Universities Australia from 2015-2017 – took up the VC role at WSU on January 1, 2014, on the retirement of long-standing VC Professor Jan Reid who held the post from 1998-2013. “She left the university in a wonderful position,” Glover acknowledges.

Before joining WSU, Barney Glover had been at the helm of Charles Darwin University for five years. Prior to that, he’d been DVCR at the University of Newcastle, and had held senior roles at Perth’s Curtin University.

Born in Geelong, Victoria, Glover attended the local Newcomb Secondary College, before going on to study at the University of Melbourne graduating with a Master of Science in Mathematics, as well as a Diploma of Education in Mathematics Education followed by a PhD in Applied Mathematics.

After a brief stint as a teacher he embarked on his higher education career at the University of Ballarat (now Federation University). Here, and later at Curtin, he developed an interest in university management and leadership with a focus on research, research infrastructure, intellectual property, and capital development projects.

His time as VC at Charles Darwin University taught him much about community engagement, he says.

“CDU is a great Australian university in so many ways. I have had a huge amount of respect and affection for the institution and for the people of the Northern Territory.

“It plays such an important role in the fabric of life in the Northern Territory, both as a higher education provider and also as provider of vocational education and training. It is a magnificent institution that is richly research intensive. I had a great five years there and there was wonderful support from the local community.”

Leading advocate and champion for Western Sydney

The University of Western Sydney – renamed Western Sydney University in 2015 “to reflect our strong commitment to our region” – was formally constituted on 1 January 1989 and within five years there were more than 16,000 students at the university – a figure now approaching 45,000 plus 3,300 staff.

The university is, Glover says, an “anchor institution and leading advocate and champion for Western Sydney” and is now embarked on a mission to become a “thought leader” in the region.

“The rapid way in which technology is changing the way we live, and definitely the way our graduates will work in the future, means students have to be equipped on graduation with the ability and desire to engage in lifelong learning to adapt to and engage with the changing labour market.”

And so the university is now engaged in large-scale curriculum reform driven by the 21C Curriculum Project focused on “an step-change reform of our curriculum architecture and then deeply across many of our courses” and looking to meet the challenges of sustainability, the digital revolution, the changing nature of work, and the future of work.

“We are conscious of the need to work in partnership, so we’re looking at partnership pedagogy, and working very closely with partners in the design and co-design of the curriculum of the future,” he says, addressing “the different ways in which people will engage in learning through things like curiosity pods and access to micro credentials”.

Transformative infrastructure and health plans

The university is and will continue to be hugely engaged in the transformative infrastructure and health plans set to re-shape Western Sydney. This will require much adaptation by the university but, Glover says, it’s up to the task.

“One of the great characteristics of university education in this country, especially over the last 40 years, is that it has been very adaptive, responsive and in many ways a world-leading sector.”

One of the ways WSU is preparing for the future is through a number of Decadal Strategies to meet its commitments to the region – these included the recently released Flight Path targeted at the new airport, and Western Health centred on the health challenges facing the region which in 10 years, he says, will have an extra million people living there.

That creates an obligation on Western Sydney University to begin to think through how do we meet the anticipated needs of our community in that time?

“It’s about how we position ourselves in our region and respond to all these changes, not just in the immediacy of the next two or three years, but looking out at over a decade or more.

“If you look at Western Sydney in a decade’s time, a significant proportion of the current major infrastructure projects will have been realised. We will have new metro systems in place, we will have north-south rail connections, and we will have the international airport at Badgerys Creek.

“In a decade it will just be a couple of years into its life as a 24/7 international, commercial scale airport, opening up connectivity particularly to Asia, with next generation long haul planes coming in – that’s a big opportunity for Australian export industries in various ways, particularly in the Greater Sydney context.

“There’s nationally significant development and growth occurring throughout Western Sydney and it’s been driven by infrastructure investment – there’s billions going into the new airport, into transport generally, and equally billions going into hospitals and health infrastructure in the region,” he says.

Developments at the Blacktown-Mount Druitt hospital will see it become “one of the top five or six hospitals in Australia when the next phase is completed,” he says. There will also be a significant growth in the number of beds in major hospitals in Liverpool, Campbelltown, Nepean, and Westmead.

“We will literally have hundreds of additional beds in high quality tertiary hospital precincts – both public and private hospitals. The major hospitals of Western Sydney are creating precincts around them which will attract investments, job creation and industry co-location with universities – not just with WSU but other universities too.

“That’s a wonderful way of staying very connected to the next generation of workers for the health industry in this country and in our region. We need to adapt to those circumstances.”

An advocate and thought leader for the region

An important role for the university, Glover says, is to be a thought leader in the region as well as being an advocate that “champions” the Western Sydney region.

“There has been an important shift for the university over the last few years to be seen to express strong views about the development of our region. We need to be a voice, for example, for the developing urban form of Western Sydney, and for the environmental challenges that the region faces – about the fragility of Western Sydney,” he says.

“Whether that’s about the impact of heat load in our region – which we’re doing a lot of work on at the moment – or whether it’s about ensuring the quality of our ground water into the future when we’ve got such intense development underway such as new rail systems.”

As an anchor institution in the region – “with significant intellectual capacity” – he says it’s important to have researchers and academics focus their disciplinary expertise on local challenges and for the university to be seen as an advocate for the region. The university is committed to “change the narrative” away from the “deficit model” of the region to one that advocates for its strengths.

“That’s an important part of advocating for the university through its Vice-Chancellor and our senior researchers with their expertise – to be willing to stand up and very publicly discuss the challenges for economic development and social development and the health and wellbeing of our region, for the urban form.”

Significant social, cultural and economic change

Glover highlights a new architecture program at the university, which he says will “bring in expertise that can contribute to the way our region will develop in terms of urban transformation architecture”.

Such courses are important “and not just symbolic statements” for universities in their role as a “thought leader”.

“We have a role to play in stimulating, encouraging and leading an open and evidence-based debate and discussion around the issues, problems, challenges, and difficulties that a region faces when it’s going through a very significant social, cultural and economic change – to suggest alternative way of imagining the future of the region.”

WSU has increased its advocacy for the local area “from a time when the university was perhaps less vocal in expressing views about some of the critical issues facing the region. I think that’s a positive transformation and one that we need to see continue”.

“In terms of changing perception, you need a champion, you need advocates and you need people who are community leaders to be powerful in their statements about the region, particularly at the moment with all the investments being made and the difference they will make for Sydney overall, not just Western Sydney.”

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