Centre for Flexible Learning (CFL)
December 12, 2003 04:03 Age: 14 yrs

Acting VC opens 2003 RCC

Category: DFL News & Events
By: Pita Tuisawau

The Acting Vice Chancelor of the University Dr Rajesh opened the 2003 Regional Centres Conference today in Suva and here is what he had to say.

Acting Vice-Chancellor - Professor Rajesh Chandra

Welcome

The Vice-Chancellor, Pro Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar, Bursar, the Acting Director of the Distance and Flexible Learning Support Centre (DFL Support Centre), Father John Bonato, the DPD, Centre Directors, Heads of Schools and Departments, Director of CELT, friends, ladies and gentlemen

I would like to add my own welcome to that already extended by Father John Bonato. I welcome especially all the Directors of Centres. It is always nice to see all of you, and we all look forward to interacting with you throughout this week. We are all trying very had to ensure that all components of the University feel that they are important and integral parts of the organization. This annual event is an important mechanisms for ensuring that you as Centre Directors feel that you belong to this wonderful regional organization, and that your views and contributions are welcomed and appreciated.

This is Father John Bonato’s first RCC as the leader of the DFL Support Centre. We would like to thank him for agreeing to take charge of the DFL operations after Dr. Richard Wah’s resignation. Father Bonato brings to this position an excellent reputation as a senior leader and manager. He has considerable understanding of our distance and flexible learning operations, and has been one of its strongest advocates. He has made an excellent start, and I know that he has been receiving your full co-operation. I wish him well and assure him and all of you that the Management is fully committed to DFL, and will provide all assistance required to achieve our vision of a truly multi-modal flexible learning institution.

I would also like to record our appreciation to Dr. Wah for his contributions. Richard was a long-serving member of staff, and has made many valuable contributions to various components of distance and flexible learning. Among the various contributions that have been particularly important, Richard saw the value of USPNet and educational technologies even as University Extension was not so forthcoming at that time under its previous leadership. Richard also had a very good understanding of the need for change and innovation, and the importance of making the best use of resources.

Richard has now joined the World Health Organization in an interesting project to set up computer labs to promote health education. We are implementing agency for this project, and we will, of course, be in frequent contact with him. We wish him well in his new job.

Key Challenges

At the practical level, we have two major challenges before us in DFL activities, and while we will deal with them in more detail later in the programme, I wish to flag them here.

Mainstreaming of DFL Activities

First, the mainstreaming of DFL activities. For the last four or five years, we have been moving steadily to integrate the various delivery modes more closely. Late last year, the University made a decision to hasten this process—to move to where we want to be in one bold step rather than doing it more incrementally. The new vision is that of one university, providing students challenging educational experiences in different modes, treating them as one irrespective of which mode they might use, and ensuring that all students receive excellent support services.

This mainstreaming has implications for all sections of the University. It means the integration of student support services—which should result in improved services, greater equity, and reduced costs. It means the integration of campus and Centre operations where we have Centres and campuses located close together. The details of this integration are the subject of another session.

Mainstreaming also means that face to face teaching will utilize materials already used for DFL operations. The best practice of DFL and face to face teaching will be combined.

One interesting by-product of this should be greater ability to move away from information provision in lectures to more active learning and problem solving. Because DFL materials will contain the bulk of the information needed, lecturers will be able to move away from the traditional three lectures and a tutorial format into move workshops and tutorials and fewer lectures. In this area, I know that the department of Education and Psychology has made an excellent start, and I would encourage all departments to draw on this experience.

Mainstreaming also means that Departments and Schools will assume greater responsibility for DFL operations since DFL students are departmental students. Heads of Departments and Schools will need to broaden their thinking and ensure that their “constituencies” feature DFL students prominently since the majority of our students by headcount are DFL students.

Centre Development Plans

The other practical issue before us is the completion of Centre Development Plans. We did a lot of work on this last year. Unfortunately, two Directors did not submit their plans in time. It is vital that these be submitted, and that we complete the full package of development plans as soon as possible.

The new Director of Planning and Development, Dr. Michael Gregory, has taken responsibility from where Tom left. We will all be here for that session to ensure that we can complete these plans urgently. Overall, relying on the inputs from Centre Directors, the Planning and Development Office will resume responsibility for the finalization of the plans in consultation with Centre Directors, Director of DFLSC, and the VC’s Office.

Responsibility for USP Managers

The University is expecting many and innovative things from its senior managers, including Heads of Schools, Departments, and Centre Directors. I think it will be useful if I outline some of our operational approaches and expectations since we all need to understand these to collectively achieve our vision.

As the Vice-Chancellor keeps emphasizing, our operational context is one of increasing competition, the need to improve our quality, enhance services, reduce costs, and to promote a greater sense of regional ownership and participation by all stakeholders. In a nutshell, we need to ensure a bright future of USP as a vibrant regional university of international repute but anchored firmly in the Pacific islands.

To get the best out of our managers, we expect some of the following:

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Combination of strong leadership and management. Doing the right things and doing things right.

Self-development—keeping up with international literature. We must all try to read the most recent literature, scan international trends, and critically examine new ways of doing our work.

Strategic and analytical approaches

Team building—empowering staff, but also taking overall responsibility for their supervision

Exercising excellent interpersonal skills

Practicing good governance: accountability, transparency and avoidance of exercise of “raw power”

Adequate attention to systems and procedures. Centre Directors are responsible for systems and procedures at the Centres. In many instances, this is a shared responsibility with others, such as the DFLSC, Registry, and Bursary—but on the ground the Centre Director assumes operational responsibility.

Among these responsibilities, financial management is critical because of the widespread incidence of problems in our region. We have to pay much attention to risks and devise ways of managing these risks. Audit reports have indicated the need for better systems and supervision.

Our audit systems are also showing other weaknesses, such as the lack of a common understanding of systems. It is important that we have systems in place, that these are fully documented, and that all people involved in our operations understand them fully. This requires explicit attention by managers, who need to spend time with their staff, communicate with them, and monitor the operations to ensure that systems are being complied with.

There is increasing emphasis on demonstrating our performance using objective, quantified outputs. The re-organization of academic services has used quantified targets on a daily basis and constantly monitored performance against these targets. All of us should try to work out targets for performance and monitor how we perform against these yardsticks.

These targets need to be realistic, of course, and should allow for other, sometimes unexpected functions that staff members are called upon to perform. These can be set after discussion among members of staff, but these should be benchmarked against international experience for comparative purposes, and our staff should be encouraged to push themselves hard to perform to their best ability, because it is only by doing this that we can ensure that member governments value us for our internationally recognized but cost-effective services.

From systems maintenance to systems interrogation and improvement—this is critical. Higher education is changing fundamentally. Some writers are even questioning the continuation of the university in the form we know of it currently. Some people think that in its current form, universities will give way to private training institutions.

We, therefore, need to question our assumptions and systems. Should we be doing these things? If so, why? Are there better ways of doing these things? If so, why should we not adopt and adapt these?

One of the fundamental things we will need to think about is the way we organize our teaching. One of the questions for us is whether we should acquire courses from other providers, make necessary changes, and use them in addition to those we are developing oursleves?

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Because of the urgency of providing new and complete programmes for DFL delivery, and the relative cheapness of doing this has led the University to decide that acquiring courses from other institutions is now an integral part of our operations. Through the JICA project, very compelling case was made to acquire a IT course as a pilot. The AusAID project is also providing support for the acquisition of these courses.

The departments and schools will be fully involved in any decision on acquisition. The Academic Committee and Senate will also provide scrutiny and approval, as they do for courses we develop oursleves. There is a team now under the AusAID/USP DFL project to institutionalize this approach, with the benefit of resources to actually acquire courses.

Active Support and Adequate Resourcing

We know that for these expectations to be met, we must all work together collaboratively, promote team spirit, empower and develop staff, and provide additional resources where needed. The Management is aware of the need to promote these approaches, find resources either through re-structuring or through additional funding.

I wish to highlight a few of the ways in which we hope to help the Centres:

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Rationalized, but stronger administrative support. We know that without adequate administrative support, Centre Directors cannot undertake their leadership roles fully, nor can Centre Lecturers perform their academic functions. We have already agreed to better administrative support for some Centres and will agree to others as part of the Centre Development Plans

Support to Centre Lecturers to undertake more teaching at the Centres. This will require a mindset change among lecturers on the campus as well as by the Centres, who have used Centre Lecturers more in administrative duties in the past.

Increased video broadcast of lectures, and additional summer schools to increase the total number of courses available in-country.

USPNet upgrade that will allow greater student interaction at the Centres as well as remote access to students beyond the Centres.

Internet bandwidth has already been increased to 1 Mbps, doubling our capacity. Although still inadequate, this provides greater opportunities for Internet courses, and I hope that students will be able to use the Internet more.

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Concluding Statement

This year’s RCC is especially important in that it should allow us to better understand what the University is trying to do in the area of mainstreaming distance and flexible learning and teaching. We need to harmonize our collective vision—and to fall behind the institution’s declared vision. We should take every opportunity to achieve this, and continue to work on this even as you all return to the Centres as we have USPNet to allow us to pursue discussions remotely.

I hope that you all will have most challenging and productive discussions; that you will achieve your objectives, and strengthen our relationships and bonds—as the member of the large USP family. I hope also that you will enjoy your stay here: the best outcome is one in which we work hard, but also enjoy ourselves in the process.