In conversation with: Prof. Barney Glover AO

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.”


How the principles enabling strong relationships can be perfect bedfellows with startup success

In Tuesday’s workshop at Launch Pad our Founders shared their experiences across the good, the bad and the ugly. That is, the wins they had achieved, the challenges they were facing, and the showstoppers that if not addressed would cause the lights to be switched off on this current adventure.

A single theme became apparent connecting all lines of discussion: how to practically manage working in the abstract.

Some of our SydWest Accelerator members are seasoned professionals. With this wealth of experience behind them, they had a lightbulb moment: they saw a problem that they could solve through a startup. They had the humility and wherewithal to seek the support of an accelerator program to increase their chance of success. In the session, they expressed the challenge of moving from “being a cog in a large corporate machine” where the allocation of work is either done for them or obvious due to their experience, to a feeling of having vast amounts of free time but not being entirely sure how to use it.

At the other end of the experience continuum, we have student entrepreneurs, who are balancing their studies and in some cases part-time work, with trying to launch a startup.

The thread connecting both groups and all of the Founders in between is “how do I structure my time in this area where I feel I am an absolute beginner?”.

In the workshop, Founders shared some of their successes, and it was great to see the camaraderie develop as they encouraged one another. Yet much like an elite athlete who is so focused on their end goal, that achieving a personal best along the way secures little more than a smile, a talking point was “I need to be better at pausing to recognise and celebrate the wins I have along the way.”

There was strong agreement that celebrating victories wasn’t happening enough. “I must do better at this – stopping to enjoy the moment.”

But how?

The commonality in the challenge of how best to use one’s time to progress a startup and how to ensure one pauses to mark key successes, is the need for practical steps to make both happen. As one Founder shared, the biggest daily challenge is “working in the abstract” on something that hasn’t been done before and knowing that they themselves must train to become the guide along that journey.

Scheduling may be the key.

Everyone works differently, but for me, if it is scheduled in my diary, it gets done. Some of the best relationship advice I have been given translates to startup success. From blocking time for “date night”, to looking ahead at a demanding period of work and ensuring some quality time is set aside for loved ones and family at the end of it. These practical steps get us from where we are now, to the place we aspire to for the relationships.

So being clear on what the business is aiming at and why, and then working back to now, sets the course. Then, plotting the milestones to keep the adventure on track, and scheduling times for reflection. If it all goes well, reflection will no doubt combine with celebration. If it doesn’t, the time has been set aside to critically assess how and why this happened, and what to do next. Interestingly, scheduling quality time for relationships is not just a principle that can be borrowed for startup success, but the two undoubtedly go hand in hand. For many Founders, the people they speak to most about their concept or company are their families. There is a great opportunity to ensure they are supported in their endeavour, but not in a way that is at the expense of these important relationships: “Sorry I can’t join you guys tonight, Mum had great news this week with her startup so we are going out for dinner together.”

This structure keeps the emphasis on creating the conditions for success, rather than chasing success itself. From philosopher Victor Frankl to NFL coach Bill Walsh, we know this is how winners win. Simple, practical, daily steps in how we manage our time help us to share and celebrate our wins, and keep us on track with a sense of progress and fulfilment.

Western Sydney’s startup mission

Ask anyone to list the startup hubs based in Sydney’s CBD and at least half a dozen names will be quickly rattled off: Fishburners, Stone & Chalk, BlueChilli, Hoist, Tank Stream Labs, Muru-D, Tyro Fintech Hub, and the list goes on.

Now, take a minute to think about the ones that are based in western Sydney. Not too many come to mind, right?

That’s the challenge Don Wright has on his hands. He is the co-founder and manager of Launch Pad, one of only a handful of startup co-working spaces based in western Sydney, and he’s determined to put the region on the startup ecosystem map.

Launch Pad was established in mid-2015 by the Western Sydney University in partnership with the NSW government, and corporate partners KPMG, National Australia Bank, and Landcom. There are about 90 startups situated across three major Launch Pad locations in Werrington, Parramatta, and Liverpool.

“The big focus for us is to bring digital tech out to the west. It’s all about how do we take good tech startups in the west,” Mr Wright said.

“Because we already have an enormous research base, we have institutions that have world-leading technology in biomedical engineering and neuroscience, agribusiness, energy, we are trying to bring that innovation support platform through Launch Pad.”

The other part of the agenda for Launch Pad is also recognising the advantage western Sydney-based startups have over their CBD counterparts, which is being able to work closely with the region’s small to medium businesses and using the relationships to build a collaborative model, according to Mr Wright.

Launch Pad received an additional $1 million funding boost in June last year to further drive this agenda.

“Western Sydney is a beast compared to central Sydney. We’ve got a very large concentration of SMEs out in the west,” Mr Wright said. “We’ve got 160,000 plus [SMEs], so we wanted to look very specifically at how to we leverage that as well, and not just say, ‘Right, we’re just going to be all about startups’.”

“What we’ve done is integrate SMEs within our program. We get SMEs working with startups now, so we get this cross-fertilisation between the two.”

“In our incubator in Penrith, we’ve got three SMEs in here that have collocated their engineering team and they now interact with startups, so it’s a bit of a different flavour out here.”

Both Juan Pereyra and JP Liew, who each have their own startups based in the Werrington Launch Pad campus, agreed the reason they chose to be in western Sydney was because it is where all their customers are located.

“I was originally at Fishburners, but most of my clients were in western Sydney or the Blue Mountains, so it was a bit silly to be in the city,” Mr Pereyra said.

But while there are some clear advantages of being part of the western Sydney startup ecosystem, there are also some unique challenges, too.

“It’s a bit a different to Sydney CBD that’s a compact ecosystem in terms of them being geographically close. We’re one incubator supporting seven campuses across western Sydney. We’re a very large catchment area,” Mr Wright said.

It’s not the west versus the CBD situation either. Rather, Mr Wright said he wants to be able to bridge the gap between the CBD and western Sydney, adding however, it will require much needed balanced support from the government.

“If anything we want to work with that ecosystem. I’ve got really good relationships with the guys that run the incubators in UNSW, UTS and Macquarie. This is how do we grow Sydney to be a more globally competitive hub,” he said.

As for whether there is enough funding coming through from angel investors and venture capital, Mr Wright said “money is not the problem”.

“Anyone who ever tell you a lack of money is the problem has got it wrong; it’s a good deal flow for the investors. They want quality ideas to invest in and if you take good ideas to them, there’s plenty of money around. We’re very focused on the business model.”

Looking forward, Mr Wright hopes to eventually see a similar building as the Sydney Startup Hub, due to open early next year in Sydney CBD, be opened in western Sydney.

“We’d love to see an equivalent level of investment in the west because you really have this set of challenges in the west because it is very spread out. It is a challenge to provide support in a much bigger geographic area, but we have incredible strengths through our multicultural population.

“The Chinese community can provide fantastic insight into China and we’re really trying to harness that. Same with the Indian community around Parramatta, we see this potential to create this fantastic international trade hub where startups can get fantastic access to international markets through western Sydney by leveraging that multicultural population we have.”

Launch Pad is now in the process of applying for a grant through the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda’s business incubator support program to continue to build out the local ecosystem.

“We want people talking about western Sydney as the next big innovation hub. Western Sydney is a massive, untapped potential for knowledge job creation and for huge innovation,” said Mr Wright.

This article was originally posted on Innovation Aus.