Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Selling Armidale to international students

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 22 July 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

One disadvantage of living in Sydney as I now do is travel time. I spend almost three hours in every twenty four, sometimes more, sitting in a bus, train or car.

I try to make the best use I can of this otherwise dead time. This is what I have come to call my train reading time. I sit, read and try to write.

Five mornings a week the train passes through Harris Park, one of the epicenters for recent attacks on Indian students studying in Australia.

A lot of the reporting on these troubles focused on perceived racism in the broader Australia community or, alternatively, suggested that Indian students had simply been victims of ordinary opportunistic crime.

I have no doubt that there have been cases of what is called curry bashing, as well as opportunistic crime. But, as always, the position is a little more complicated than this.

At the last census Harris Park had a population of 6,854.

Of this, just 29.2% spoke only English at home. The most common languages other than English were Arabic 10.4%, Gujarati 6.8%, Hindi 5.8%, Mandarin 4.6% and Cantonese 3.7%. Indian born made up 19.5% of the population of Harris Park. Those between 15 and 25, the main student groups, totalled 68.7% of the population.

The central problem in Harris Park has been the replacement of the previously dominant Lebanese population by new Indian students. This lies at the core of the troubles.

Whatever the reasons for the difficulties faced by Indian students, the whole affair has done great damage to Australia’s reputation as a safe and friendly place for international students to study.

This damage has been compounded by problems within the vocational education system. The combination of a proportion of unscrupulous “colleges” with bad official policies has created a growing scandal.

Granny Herald has been campaigning hard on this issue. The campaign may be required, but crikey that paper does damage to the city it claims to serve. Its constant stream of negative stories adds to Sydney’s growing tarnish.

These various difficulties lie at the core of my argument that Armidale has a real opportunity to attract more international students at all levels.

The current troubles will almost certainly lead to a drop in the total number of international students coming to Australia, but Armidale can increase its share of those that do come.

Armidale does not need an additional 10,000 international students, but 1,000 more spread across various educational institutions would be of considerable benefit to the local economy.

I mentioned in my last column that Armidale had a remarkable record of welcoming international students. I do not think that Armidale people properly realise what a great base this provides.

The story starts with the civic welcome that the city offers students each year. It continues through the thousands of interactions between the city, its people and its educational institutions and the international student and educational communities.

I read the UNE news blog. I have lost count of the stories that Jim Scanlan and his colleagues have posted on UNE’s international activities and interactions, many with a people focus.

Dropping down, I read the individual stories in the Express or in some of the school publications. This is good stuff, but few outside Armidale know anything about it.

Part of the problem is that Armidale’s good news stories are simply not news in the conventional sense. Nobody runs them as stories outside Armidale because they are seen as local. They won’t attract readers or viewers.

This won’t change. However, the way we approach the communications task can change.

Take a simple example.

Check out the various Armidale web sites connected in some way with education. How many mention the civic welcome, or indeed say much at all about international students and the local community?

If you do this check, you will see that the question exactly illustrates my point. Forget straight sales, we just don’t communicate.

Assume that you are parents in India making decisions about your kids’ education.

Where would you want them to go: to the new “university cities” of Sydney or Melbourne, or to a place that presents the whole community as welcoming?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Train Reading - Keith Leopold's Came to Booloominbah

In spare moments during this moving period I have been reading Keith Leopold's Came to Booloominbah: a country scholar's progress 1938-1942 (University of New England Press, Armidale, 1988).

When the New England University College opened its doors in 1938 there were just eleven full time enrolments, eight men and three women. Of the eight men, six were on Teacher's College scholarships. They and their schools were:

  • Lewis Border (The Armidale School)
  • Thomas Harrigan (Marist Brothers, West Maitland)
  • Max Hartwell (Glen Innes High School)
  • Keith Leopold (Maitland Boy's High School)
  • Patrick Thompson (Taree High School)
  • Leslie Titterton (Kempsey High School)

Just a list of names and schools, one private, five public. But they came from all parts of New England. The Maitland boys found Armidale very small. It was also a long way from home - eight hours by train. The Kempsey and Taree boys may have found the distance even longer - there were no train connections here. They either went home by motor coach over the rough roads or, perhaps, by train to Sydney and then steamer.

I will write more on the first NEUC intake a little later. I find it interesting that they did so well in later life. Their story is also a story of a very different world, one about to end with war.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Moving Time

We are moving again, so I am going to have some difficulty in posting. Posts will be irregular and come up after their official date. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Marketing Armidale as an education centre

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 15 July 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I see that there was a quality control problem with my last column. I use the previous column as a base and forgot to change the heading! My apologies.

This column returns to the theme of rebuilding Armidale’s role as an educational centre in its own right, not just as an extension of UNE.

In my last column on this topic, the importance of Collective Wisdom, I suggested just two things.

First, as far as possible get rid of the word regional. Armidale needs to sell itself as a national/international education centre. The word “regional” is the kiss of death for this aspiration.

Secondly, the need for all of Armidale’s educational institutions to combine to promote the city and to achieve joint educational objectives.

I used the Collective Wisdom project as an example of the way in which Armidale could combine to sell a story. It also illustrated the way in which disunity and competition could destroy promise.

I now want to look briefly at the marketing of Armidale as an educational centre.

We live in a competitive and crowded world.

Within the university sector the Gang of Eight constantly campaign on the theme that big is better, that resources must be concentrated to support those universities that can compete overseas.

Competition is just as fierce in the school sector as schools compete in Australia and internationally.

Even the very concept of a university city has been expropriated by the big. A recent global ranking of university cities commissioned by a taskforce on how the private sector, universities and government could build Melbourne as a university city used two million people as a cut off point!

Sounds dumb, actually, but the results dominate any Google search on “university cities Australia”. Armidale itself failed to make the top sixty search results.

In this competitive and crowded world Armidale fails to stand out as it should. With the right search you can find linkages to Armidale’s educational institutions, but there does not seem to be any coordinated material that I can find that might persuade a person to study in Armidale.

I stand to be corrected here. I only spent about five hours in all on web searches, so I may have missed something.

This brings me to my first two points.

The first is the need to coordinate so that common messages are put across in all advertising and in all on-line material. In doing this, I go back to my point to avoid the word regional.

The second is the need for common material about Armidale that all can use. This must be accessible on-line.

I recognise that there is nothing especially profound in these points. Better Armidale marketing does not require rocket science, simply the capacity to look outside the current box.

Once a common framework has been established, each institution can then develop or modify its material and especially its on-line material to reinforce points.

In looking at this, I want to look first at international students.

I am not sure how many Armidale people realise this, but Armidale and its institutions have a quite long and remarkable record of welcoming overseas students dating back to Colombo Plan days.

We can see this today in some of the student rankings on, for example, the hot courses for Singaporean students’ web site. To quote Narayana from India: If u want to be the best, come to this university and study.

I don’t think that we are at all good in selling this story. A better coordinated effort would assist Armidale educational institutions to attract students, opening new opportunities for all.

I will develop this argument in a later column, looking at what I see as some of common weaknesses at organisation level.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Textures of New England - frost

20090607FrostyPaddock This photo by New England romance writer Bronwyn Parry shows the frosty west paddock.

Frost is one of my enduring memories of growing up in New England. Frost, rare on the coast, is an ever present feature of the Tablelands and Western Slopes. O cold the black frost night, Judith Wright wrote, and indeed it can be.

Walking to school in the morning with the frost crunching under my feet is an enduring memory. With black frost, damp ground itself freezes.

In another spot, Judith writes:

rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter

I find these lines remarkably evocative. They do capture the winter feel of the Tablelands with edge of the ranges sharp in the clear, pale winter light.

I see that Bronwyn's new book, Dark Country, is now at the printers, allowing her to start work on her third. I am looking forward to reading it. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gordon Smith's outback tour - another photo


This rather striking photo has absolutely nothing to do with New England beyond the photographer!

Gordon Smith has continued the story of his outback journey with daily postings. This photo shows Blanche Cup, essentially a mound in the desert where water bubbles up from the Great Artesian Basin below.

It's desolate, isn't it? I was really struck by the salt pans stretching away in the middle distance. You can find the whole outback series here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The different textures of New England - Ulmarra

I do so love the very different textures of New England. Most people miss these because so many just drive through on the main highways. 

The Clarence River tourism people describe Ulmarra on the Clarence as one of the best preserved 19th century river ports in Australia. I think that they are right. I first visited Ulmarra when I was staying at Maclean, stops that I described inUlmarra main street Distant memories of a now vanished North Coast - Ministering to Maclean.

Today Lynne Sanders-Briathwaite has moved to Ulmarra and has been describing her experiences in her blog. So small is the town that its Wikipedia entry is but a stub. 

This photo by Lynne shows Ulmarra's mains street. Hard to believe that this quiet scene was once the location of fierce commercial rivalry as rival merchants from different places fought it out.

I haven't had time to check the details, but if my memory serves me correctly, the Edward Ogilvie that I described in Saturday Morning Musings - New England's Ogilvie dynasty was one participant in these battles. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Belshaw’s World: The strange world of the Belshaws

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 8 July 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I was going to continue my discussion on Armidale’s future as an educational centre, but I feel the need for a break and so, probably, do you. I will hold further discussion until my next column or the one after.

I mentioned in my last column that I was just back from a week in Canada. I had planned to go for longer, my wife is still overseas, but the need to find a new place to rent limited my time to just the Vancouver leg.

I really enjoyed Vancouver. I had only been to Canada once before and then just for a few days. This time I had a longer period in one spot, aided too by the presence of family on the Belshaw side.

We Belshaws are a funny lot.

To begin with, we are a very small family. In our branch of the family there have been just twenty seven of us over what is now four generations in the longest chain. There are so few of us that everybody is simply cousin.

Then, too, the family has been divided by time and space across three continents and five countries.

Uncle Horace was born in England, cousin Cyril in New Zealand, his two children in London and Canberra, their children in Vancouver and Toronto. Dad was born in Christchurch, his two children in Armidale, my daughters in Armidale, my brother’s children in Melbourne. The eighteen surviving family members live in eleven different places in three countries.

Despite dispersion in time and space, the striking thing about the Belshaws is the way patterns have carried across generations linked by genes and a common ancestry forged in working class Lancashire of the 19th century.

The first generation saw one teacher and two university professors. The second generation included one teacher and three leading academics. This is my generation, and I fit the pattern in interests if not formal position.

The pattern continues into the third generation with more teachers and academics, although now the dispersion is becoming greater.

Teachers and academics, but also writers.

Last night my nineteen year old gave me a full copy of her latest novel to read. Called the Guardsman, it is a fantasy story. In writing, she joins others in the third generation who also write.

I am not quite sure how many books have been written across the first three generations, but there are a lot. From utopian ideas to formal works in anthropology, economics or history to the story of adoption of Rumanian babies, the range of writing slowly spreads.

Dig down a bit and the patterns become even more striking.

Dad was an economist and historian with a special interest in development studies. Described by John Maynard Keynes as the brightest student ever to come to Cambridge from the dominions, Uncle Horace too was an economist with a special interest in development studies.

In my generation, cousin Cyril combined economics and anthropology, as did cousin Michael. I combine history and economics with an interest in anthropology.

In 1939 Uncle Horace organised the Maori Young Leaders Conference. In 2009, seventy years later, I have joined a mentor program for Aboriginal public servants, Clare has chosen to study ancient history at University, one of Helen’s favourite subjects is development studies.

I think that one thing that has puzzled all of us from time to time is just how all this came about.

My Belshaw grandparents were both born in Wigan around 1867. This was the harsh industrial world that George Orwell was later to make famous in the Road to Wigan Pier. Both grandparents left school at twelve, one to work in the pits, the second in the textile mills.

How, then, did we spawn generations of academics, teachers and writers?

I think the answer here lies in the combination of two things.

The first was the strict Primitive Methodist religious code of my grandparents with its emphasis on personal responsibility, achievement and focus on education. I think that all the first generations of Belshaws are a bit driven, I know that I am. I cannot help it.

The second was the decision to migrate to New Zealand. This freed the family from the constraints and class structures of the old world, opening new opportunities.

Can all this continue? I don’t know, but I would like to think so!

Monday, July 13, 2009

New England and Hunter Mutual Credit Unions to merge

I see from the Armidale Express that the Boards of New England Credit Union (NECU) and Hunter Mutual have agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding that, pending member approval, will lead to a merger between the two credit unions.

NECU is already the largest inland credit union in Australia and, upon completion of the merger  will have 73,000 members, 28 branches, four agencies, 240 staff and around $1 billion in total assets.

Under the agreed terms of the merger, Armidale will remain the headquarters of the new entity and Hunter Mutual’s trading name, branches, agencies and existing employees will be retained.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Round the New England blogging traps - 8 a professional, media and political focus continued

This post continues the discussion I began in Round the New England blogging traps - 8 a professional, media and political focus.

I ended the last post with a passing reference to the blog Michael Osborne: Greens Councillor on Newcastle City Council. Continuing the discussion, I want to focus on two issues raised by Michael.

The first is the proposed termination of the heavy rail connection to central Newcastle. I have to be careful what I say here because I lack access to the on-ground facts, including the full arguments put forward in favour of the change by the Hunter Development Corporation. However, I would be very cautious about ending the line because, once ended, it will be impossible to recreate.

Michael has also continued the campaign against the Tillegra Dam.I wrote about the decision to build this dam back in January 2007 in Newcastle, the Lower Hunter & the Tillegra Dam. I have seen no evidence that would cause me to shift the position expressed in that post.

Poor Newcastle. As New England's biggest city, it deserved a better fate than its current position as a pimple on the bum of Sydney Government planning for what is now defined as the greater Sydney area.

One of the difficulties I face in deciding just what constitutes a New England blog.

A blog written by someone in New England is a New England blog. But what about a blog written by a New Englander now living outside New England? This category in fact includes this blog. The dividing line that I using here is a simple one: no matter what the content, does the New Englander retain his/her links in some way?

I make this point because I have just added Paul Barratt's Australian Observer the blog list. Reflecting his experience as a senior public servant, Paul's blog has a defence/public policy focus. However, he retains his Armidale links. See, for example, The Alex Buzo Company.

Over on Media Hunter, Craig Wilson has continued his informed comments on marketing and media issues. Among other things, I had not caught up with the fact that, as outlined in Jerry Seinfeld in ad campaign for Greater Building Society, Jerry Seinfeld had agreed to act as front man for the Greater Newcastle Building Society.

Craig has also commented on the criticisms of blogging by Australian News Ltd supremo John Hartigan. I agree with Craig!

Well, I am out of time once more. I will report again on the New England blogosphere in about a week's time.  

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The role of the arts in presenting New England's life

Train Reading – Jonathan F Vance’s History of Canadian Culture looks at elements of Canadian cultural history in part from an Australian perspective. Reading this book, I have been musing over part of the role of the arts in presenting us back to ourselves. I have also been musing over the Canadian recognition of regional identity.

There is a commonly help perception in Australia that there are limited regional differences and that, to the degree that there are, they reflect state or metropolitan differences.

I cannot agree with this simply because I grew up in a world that was not the same as conventional stereotypes or accepted wisdom as presented in, for example, the Sydney papers. Or, for that matter, the various state history curricula.

Tom Roberts bailed up Consider, for a moment, this painting by Tom Roberts, Bailed Up.

Canadians worry a lot about the influence of the US on their culture. They try to present their own culture back so all Canadians can recognise it.

New England has not been so lucky.

Bailed Up was painted near Inverell. It is an instantly recognisable scene.

Like Roberts' painting of Edward Ogilvie that I featured in Saturday Morning Musings - New England's Ogilvie dynasty, this painting is part of New England's history.

Roberts himself was not a New Englander, nor does he have to be. My point is that the visual imagery he created of New England, the historical context surrounding that imagery, is largely lost to New Englanders.

When images are re-presented, they become internalised in new ways, carrying a culture forward. When images including their written are excluded, the culture suffers.

Some, New Englanders included, say there is no such thing as a New England culture. They are wrong, because geography an shared history does create links. The culture is not harmonious nor uniform, but it does exist. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Belshaw’s World: The need for Collective Wisdom

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 1 July 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

Just back from a week in Canada and still very jet-lagged. The QANTAS flight out of LA was much delayed. It was 2.50am their time before we finally got away.

Looking back over my last column, it is very easy to pontificate. It is even easier living in Sydney, as I now do, to underestimate the work being done locally.

That said, I think that the starting point in any action to grow Armidale’s educational base to is to delete the word “regional” wherever possible.

I have come to bitterly resent the application of the word regional to Armidale or its institutions. I want the word cut out.

I grew up in a world in which Armidale was a major educational centre, not a regional education centre, just an educational centre. Certainly a country educational centre, we were located in the country and were bringing education to the country, this was a matter or pride, but not a regional centre.

We got first the Teacher’s College and then the University College because we were an educational centre. Yes, we fought for it and there was strong political support. But we were an educational centre. That was the start.

The way that the word regional is used today has come to mean provincial, not city, second rate. Each time we use the word regional we put ourselves into a second class box.

Let me ask you a question. Where would you prefer to go to school or university?

Case one: Armidale is a national education centre, Australia’s only university city, drawing students from X countries.

Case two: Armidale is one of regional Australia’s major educational centres.

I think that the answer is clear. Who would want to study at two? Unless, of course, you had too.

This is not a parody. I find the use of the word regional now pervasive in Armidale material.

This brings me to my second step, the need for Armidale to reclaim its place as an educational centre in its own right, not simply an extension of UNE. This actually helps UNE because it reinforces the University’s own marketing activities.

The last thing I did before leaving Armidale in 1996 was to work with Martin Levins on what we called the Collective Wisdom Project. This centred on Martin’s dream of a cooperative electronic network linking all Armidale schools, private and public.

At the time, UNE was going through one of its periodic crises. Part of the Collective Wisdom dream was to build and promote Armidale’s school sector as something of a counter-weight to the University.

We mounted a display in the Armidale Town Hall showing the use of internet technology at school level. This involved students from private and public schools, primary and secondary, preparing web pages based on material sent in to the Town Hall.

This was leading edge in 1996. To make it work, TAS provided technical support, including training kids from Drummond in web page design. Hundreds of students were involved, while senior Commonwealth officials were invited and attended to see what Armidale could do.

I left Armidale the following week. My family was already in Sydney and I had stayed to support the display.

Nothing seemed to happen after that. When I asked Martin and others what had happened, I got a very mixed story.

A bit like Waiting for Godot, the UNE plans for its own network being developed in conjunction with Telstra had come to naught. The unity that had been building among the schools to support collective action had collapsed as the schools competed for a declining local student base. The resources required to push forward could not be found.

Had Collective Wisdom succeeded, it would have positioned Armidale (among other things) to compete in the growing market for international students that was then emerging. To my mind, and I stand to be corrected, its failure was due in part to localism and lack of broader vision.

Collective Wisdom may have failed in the broadest sense, but it remains an example of the type of action that can build Armidale’s position as an independent educational centre if we but have the vision and the courage to grasp the opportunities.

I am out of space. I will continue later when I am a little less jet-lagged!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Round the New England blogging traps - 8 a professional, media and political focus

Round the New England blogging traps - 7 Hunter Valley focus was as the name says.This time I decided to move from geographic to a somewhat broader focus.

When the University of New England started its senior management blog I thought that this was a very good idea. I still think that it was, but I don't think that it's really gelling down as a blog. Four posts in May, one in June, one so far in July is simply not enough to attract any meaningful traffic. I do find the material interesting for its occasional insights, but would like to see more.

Unlike the senior management blog, Klaus Rohde has been maintaining his UNE blog with regular posts, sometimes in German. There is some quite serious stuff on Klaus's blog, including his use of knols. I had only seen references to knols, or units of knowledge. I am still not sure how well they work as a new approach. I would be interested in comments.

Like me, the Armidale Regional Aboriginal Centre and Keeping Place has been experimenting with Twitter. I suspect that someone like the keeping Place can use Twitter effectively, but I also think that Twitter only works if you have a clear vision as to how you want to use it. I do not. That is why I have been experimenting. My feeling remains that Twitter is not for me.

It might be different if I was writing full time because I would then have more to say and more time to say it

Still on social networking, I see that there is an Armidale page on Facebook. I haven't checked to see what other places might have equivalent pages.

If the UNE senior management blog suffers from irregular posting, the same cannot be said for North Coast Voices. Hard to believe that NCV will be coming up on its second birthday a little later in the year. Its team has settled down into a regular mix of posts generally from a left of centre perspective, mixed in with local news.

In Jock's Blog, Jock Laurie as president of the NSW Farmers' Association continues to post regularly on rural issues. Down in Newcastle, Michael Osborne as Greens councillor on NSW City Council has posted regularly over June.

I have just looked at the time. I will continue this post a little later. 

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The New England Diaspora

I think it helpful in considering New England to remember that for every person presently living in New England there are at least three, perhaps as many as as ten, people living outside New England with some connection to the place. Living as I now do in Sydney, I belong to this group.

Those who now live outside New England do not lose contact with the place simply because they are gone. Their memories may change, may become attenuated, but they still remember.

I suppose I am in a special case because my personal links are still so intense. But even here I am not alone.

Not everybody uses the name New England. I do so because it has particular historical links. Some just talk about Northern NSW. Yet I find it interesting that if I meet someone from Newcastle and say that I come from Armidale they automatically see a link.

I am constantly reminded of this through my daily contacts. I wonder sometimes if there is any way of capturing this migrant loyalty in support of New England as it now stands.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Gordon Smith's Outback Adventures

20090520-09-48-34-outback2009-warri-gate Gordon Smith, one of my all time favourite New England photo bloggers, is now publishing the photos of his trip to out back NSW and Queensland.

This quite spectacular photo shows the road up to the Warri gate on the NSW/Queensland border. It really captures the vastness.

I have spoken many times on this and my other blogs about the way we are ripping the guts out of inland Australia. I have had little impact.

In looking at this photo remember not just its beauty, but the fact that fewer people now live in areas like this than was the case at the time of European settlement.

You will find Gordon's full series here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Belshaw’s World: Can Armidale’s educational base survive?

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 24 June 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

Armidale’s core business is education. We all know this, but a few numbers just as a reminder.

At the last census, 12.1 per cent of the workers in the Armidale/Dumaresq local government area were employed in tertiary education, a further 7.8 per cent in school education, making a total of 19.9 per cent. They were followed by primary production on 5.7 per cent and then cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services on 4.9 per cent.

Within this mix, the university is especially important because it brings income and people to Armidale. While boarding is still important, the school sector itself depends heavily on the local population and hence on the University. When UNE catches a cold, Armidale gets flue.

Armidale’s core education business is under threat. Again, I think that we all know this.

The problem is to find the best way of responding to the threat. This depends in turn on understanding the dynamics that lie behind it.

Armidale is presently caught in a three way squeeze between demographic change, current approaches to public policy and sectoral change.

The demographic trends are well known and I won’t dwell on them.

The population base surrounding the university is simply too small to provide the necessary internal undergraduate numbers. To survive, UNE has to draw its students from a broader catchment. This has always been the case.

UNE’s ability to do this has been seriously constrained not just by recurring internal problems, but also by the way higher education is funded in this country.

Most students have to work to fund their university education, and Armidale has very few part time jobs. This means that students coming to UNE need some other form of financial support.

The problems created for UNE by current public policy do not end here.

One of the features of public policy over the last twenty or so years has been a remarkable instability. Governments keep tinkering and changing their approaches.

We can see this in Armidale very clearly because the effects are so marked. It makes any form of sensible planning at institutional level very difficult.

Problems are made worse by an increasingly mechanistic command and control approach to public policy. We live in a world today dominated by measurement, benchmarks, targets, outputs and plans all over sighted by the great modern public gods of efficiency and effectiveness.

I have argued that our current system is neither efficient nor effective.

Putting that aside, the practical effect at institutional level is that the more dependant you are on public funding, the less real freedom you have to do new things outside those mandated by Government. And UNE is especially dependant on direct funding.

The combination of demographic change with ever-changing approaches to education policy has set in train wave after wave of structural change within the higher education sector.

Again, this has worked against UNE.

The creation and then break-up of the network university not only drained UNE funds, but also cost it much of its traditional North Coast base. The University was also very slow to respond to the emergence of new and effective competitors in distance education.

The latest challenge that UNE faces can be summarised in two words, Charles Sturt. CSU is seeking to position itself as the national regional university and in doing so has attracted considerable interest and financial support from Canberra. That support provides a sign of official Commonwealth thinking; big is still better.

I do not envy UNE’s senior management over recent years. The University has done some good things, things I have written about, but it must be very hard working under such severe constraints in an ever changing environment.

There is too much public investment in Armidale to close the Armidale campus entirely. The real risk is that UNE might be forcibly merged with someone else, with the Armidale campus becoming merely a declining branch campus.

I don’t think that this is yet inevitable.

In my next column I will suggest some things that Armidale might do to protect its core education business.