Charles Sturt University says a $104 million overhaul of its strategy is essential to ensuring success in an increasingly competitive sector.
The University Strategy 2022 will see the majority of the funds allocated to improving teaching, learning and student services, including offering new courses.
The revamp, which will be the most significant since the university was established in 1989, includes a possible name change, which has attracted considerable criticism.
But stakeholders – including students, alumni, staff and community members – will be able to have their say on the full proposal at a session in Wagga next week.
CSU’s vice-chancellor Andrew Vann said the aim of the university’s re-positioning is to create “a better university” and stand out in a “very competitive market place”.
He said the university’s new branding will allow it to gain a “firm footing” for the 2020 recruitment round and position it for years to come.
“The bulk of the money in the strategy is the fundamentals of the university, about the research we do, the service and teaching we provide to our students,” Professor Vann said.
“We live in a crowded world and the media clambers for our attention and every second of every day you have to be really clear about your focus: to stand out, and this is where our brand fits in.”
The Wagga CSU campus is already interacting with industries, including through the relatively new project AgriPark.
“This will really transform agriculture in the Riverina in decades to come and if we can get better collaboration with our researchers, industry and farmers, that’s what we need to do with all the challenges we’re seeing,” Professor Vann said.
“The world is changing on us and we need to adapt and we want to be there within our community helping.”
John Mahon, a companion of CSU, agreed with the vice-chancellor’s direction to allocate the majority of funds into courses and research.
“If the university is going to put more money into the schools that need money put into them, then their direction will work,” Mr Mahon said.
“There are some standout courses at the university that have international standing; like their wine science, veterinary science and their agricultural science courses that are also prominent to Wagga.
“These courses have good standing around the country, as well as pharmaceutical and communications, which have high employment rates.”
However, Mr Mahon said he “could not understand” why the university would want to change its name.
“The university has been boasting about their high employment rate of graduates, so why would they want to change the name of the university that achieves this?” he asked.
Mr Mahon said it is evident that the university needs to improve its collaborations with community and industry members.
“It is a good direction to move, but it seems to me locally that they’ve pushed aside people who were supporters of the university and lost interest in them as they no longer were invited to the university’s opening ceremonies,” he said.
Despite the university’s aim to engage more with its communities, Mr Mahon said the Wagga consultation session, to be held from 11.30am to 1.30pm on Wednesday at CSU’s Wal Fife Theatre, had been poorly advertised.
“It’s almost as though these meetings have deliberately not been advertised and it seems the information is only available through an online link,” he said.
The Daily Advertiser columnist Graham Gorrel strongly opposes CSU’s overall strategy and its new direction to rebrand.
“What the university is proposing is a load of rubbish,” he said. “It is not the sort of money that needs to be spent, because this university is one of the best in Australia and everyone knows that.
Mr Gorrel called on Michael McCormack and the government to halt the university’s decision to spend its money on the strategy.
“It’s time the Member for the Riverina told the university to get back to the job it does well, which is training graduates,” he said.
The ‘final piece’ of the story
Charles Sturt University’s attempt to start a conversation about its future certainly worked when news of a proposed name change broke earlier this month.
A petition against the university dropping ‘Charles’ and becoming Sturt University has attracted over 6000 signatures, with many notable alumni voicing their opposition.
CSU vice-chancellor Andrew Vann said market research and feedback will determine whether the university loses something the institution has spent the last 30 years building.
“The name is just the final piece about the whole brand story,” Professor Vann said.
“The question we are asking is, if we were to drop ‘Charles’ and leave it as Sturt University, would that help or hinder us in getting our message across?
“We have to compete for students and universities for funding, so it’s important to stand out and have people know who you are.”
Professor Vann said putting the idea out into the community was important, despite receiving some strong opposition to the name change.
“Until you ask people what they think, you don’t know what they think,” he said.
“We do, ironically, want to be talked about and the wonderful thing about this is just how much passion has been poured out about the university.
“We’re trying to strike that balance; if we have a lot of strong feedback from alumni about hating it, then we won’t do it.”
CSU alumni Professor Clifford Blake criticised the university’s name change in a letter to The DA.
“There is only one ‘Charles Sturt’ – the extinguished explorer of inland Australia – and hence, the name uniquely places the university in the region it seeks to serve,” Professor Blake said.
“It takes decades for a university to build momentum and a reputation.”