Academics, advice and alliances key to VU’s ‘tradition of excellence’

Victoria University’s newly-appointed Vice-Chancellor and President discusses what the education institution is doing differently to be hailed Australia’s top ranked university for employability skills.

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Welcome to another edition of Fast Five - our fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s most influential and exciting industry leaders five questions to unveil the challenges, successes, and behind-the-scenes operations of Australia’s leading institutions.

Professor Adam Shoemaker has an extensive and impressive work history in Australia’s university sector, including roles at Southern Cross University, Griffith University, Monash University and Australian National University.

After being in his new role as Vice-Chancellor and President for less than six months, the Professor is already looking to expand Victoria University’s partnerships, continue cutting-edge research, and evolve Victoria University’s groundbreaking teaching models.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Adam Shoemaker.#1: How is education evolving at Victoria University?

Our award winning, VU Block Model, will continue to be the centrepiece of our education model. This is where students focus on one unit at a time over four weeks, in smaller and innovative classes. Student pass rates have significantly increased in the Block Model with better grades also being achieved.

We intend to continue to evolve our model of seamless and concurrent higher education and vocational education and training, with multiple entry and exit points. VU’s flexible study mode will combine in-person and hybrid methods to allow students to study when and how they choose, supported by state of the art technology – matching students’ lives to study.

As the number-one ranked university in Australia for employability skills (2020 Employer Satisfaction Survey), we intend to continue to build our career and industry-focused approach to ensure exceptional graduate outcomes for our students.

One such approach is through our ‘flipped campus’ model. This approach sees industry partners, co-locate and collaborate with VU in deep and meaningful ways in the same buildings and precincts. This also enables industry specialists to inform curricula design and delivery; student internships and placements; industry-based PhD projects; and collaborative research projects which bring about real impact and change.

#2: What is one piece of advice you give to your graduates?

When our students graduate, they either leave VU to embark on their career or to continue with further study. We hope that they use the skills that they have acquired to strengthen the communities from which they have come or to build the new communities they are destined to join.

My favourite piece of advice for our graduates is that “no-one ever really knows what your career challenges will be” so you always have to redouble your efforts to have fantastic mentoring along the way.

#3: How is Victoria University unique compared to other educational institutions?

In everything we do, Victoria University is guided by our moral purpose - to transform the lives of any student from any background and to transform our communities, in partnership with our students and communities.

Our history is formed on a solid foundation of sustained regional engagement and responsibility, in particular with the seven Local Government Areas (LGAs) specified in Victoria University Act (2010). We also recognise that our teaching, research and engagement is shared, enriched and enhanced through partnerships beyond the university.

Strong alliances with organisations such as the AFL’s Western Bulldogs, Western Health and Greater Western Water (formerly City West Water), which go beyond a traditional university-industry partnership model, are unique to VU.

A good example of this is our VU RISE (Recover-Innovate-Sustain-Evolve) program which sees the establishment of a series of innovation hubs (Stronger Communities; Sustainable Futures; Jobs and Skills; Education) to develop local solutions to address COVID-19 recovery in the west of Melbourne with global reach through innovation partnerships.

#4: What will be Victoria University’s greatest challenge over the next 12 months?

Rapid technological and economic structural change, climate change, demographic, health and social issues - and of course pandemics - both challenge and inspire VU. There are vast opportunities for growth, innovative course offerings and education, leading-edge research and new business models.

Our priorities over the next 12 months will see us continue to build upon our tradition of excellence, opportunity and inclusiveness, dual sector strength, the successful VU Block Model of teaching, cutting edge applied and translational research addressing contemporary challenges especially through a Planetary Health lens, and our wide and deep connections to communities and industry in the west and beyond.

However, this is being done in the context of a dynamic environment. This brings with it heightened risks which must be mitigated - and a preparedness to make decisions to divest activities that have outlived their usefulness so that we can invest in new strategic opportunities to ensure the university’s long-term sustainability.

#5: What support do Victoria’s education institutions need?

The State Government has already been tremendously supportive of higher education institutions in the state – dramatically so. We are all very conscience of this contribution and we are grateful for it.

A huge help for us would be to align workforce planning for health disciplines so that federally funded places can align better with areas of chronic workforce shortage (such as in nursing and occupational therapy). The health placements system is, equally, in need of a sober second look and we would be proud to play a leading role in reviewing health policy in this area through the talented researchers in our Mitchell Institute

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