By OSCAR PERRI
Charles Darwin University’s Alice Springs campus has “mind blowing” potential. The University just needs to get out of its own way and start making it happen, according to new Vice Chancellor Scott Bowman (left in the photo, with Jay Walker).
Revitalising the campus is a part of the new strategic plan, with the appointment of Jay Walker as Associate Vice Chancellor for Central Australia the first step.
There are almost 2000 students enrolled at CDU, around half of whom come to the Alice Springs campus for training.
The majority of these students are enrolled in Vocational Education Training (VET) and around 350 are studying for a degree or higher. Professor Bowman says they can easily double this number in the next five to 10 years, while delivering more classes from the campus.
It has been a “tough” time for the Alice Springs campus in recent years, with restructuring and cuts resulting in the loss of staff and courses, but the future looks bright with a stronger focus on delivering tertiary education for Central Australia.
New healthcare courses will be starting in the coming months, with more to begin at the start of next year.
“Health is a major issue for the Northern Territory, so it’s absolutely essential that we start to grow our own health care professionals,” Professor Bowman says.
“We are the Northern Territory university so we have a responsibility to do that.
“We have gone through some bad years, and people maybe lost a little bit of faith in us, I think rebuilding that is very important.
“That’s not just about talking the talk, it’s about walking the talk. So, I can say all this stuff, but who knows, it might all be meaningless, I know I’ve got to get out here and prove myself and prove the university.
“In a year’s time we’ll have another interview and I can tell you the things we’ve done, rather than things we’re going to do.”
CDU will also be looking to expand the VET offering and establishing a remote delivery program. Pro Vice-Chancellor VET, Professor Noordin Shehabuddeen, will be developing a university-wide VET blueprint for the next five years around VET priorities and to implement the remote delivery program.
Visiting Alice twice already since taking over the top job in April, Professor Bowman has been meeting with community and industry groups, as well as Mr Walker and university staff to identify the needs of Alice Springs. In the coming weeks he will be moving his office and staff to Alice for at least a week, the plan is to do this regularly.
“What I’ve been hearing is that the university needs to get much more engaged in Alice Springs, we should be really listening to industry, listening to community about what’s needed here.
“We need to put more activity here on campus, we need to be running more programs and need to have more people based here.
“I want to get down here as much as possible again to listen to staff and listen to the community. You can only really do that when you’re on site.
“I want to spend a lot of time outside of my office in Darwin, and really be out here where the action is and see where the opportunities are, so that’s a big part of how I intend to operate.”
Professor Bowman came to CDU from Western Sydney University, where he was Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
He is not new to running a University, having previously served in the role for almost 10 years at Central Queensland University, and has also been Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Registrar of James Cook University (JCU).
He says that the Great Barrier Reef drew a lot of attention to JCU from international and interstate students, and the unique environment of Alice Springs has a lot of potential to do the same.
“We had thousands of international students from just America come in for six months to do part of their degree up in Cairns or Townsville, and it was really the reef that attracted them.
“We’ve got an environment here which is just as special as the Great Barrier Reef, with the desert environment and Uluru.
“If we’re doing something in performing arts and music and linking in with Aboriginal culture and music and art, why would you do that in a big city.
“There’s only one place to do it and that’s Alice Springs, but we’ve got to bring all of that together.”
He says that the vibrant arts scene in town lends itself to a focus on those fields for a point of difference for the campus.
There are already well established music and ceramics facilities and courses, which Professor Bowman is keen to expand to other courses to attract people to study arts in Alice Springs.
“What I’m looking for is a vibrant campus which forms part the heart of Alice Springs, people delivering the courses and services that people need in Alice Springs Springs, but then also using Alice Springs to go further out across Central Australia.
“We’ve gone through some really tough years and restructures and losing people. Well, you know, now it’s time to go into growth mode.
“There’s been cuts at the university and, you know that has got us into a good financial position, we are strong financially now. But you can’t cut to greatness you can only grow to greatness.
“The key challenges are ones that we put up for ourselves if we can’t have the imagination to realize what we can do here if we can’t see the potential.
“There are going to be a lot of people that can’t [move to another city to study] or don’t want to do that. They might not be able to do that for family reasons financial reasons, emotional reasons.
“So we need to have a university which is an alternative, offering first class education.
“So, if you can’t, for whatever reason, go to the city, you should be able to do a range of courses locally in Alice Springs, and they should be absolutely world standard.