Opinion: Deakin a casualty of poor leadership

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deakin in city
While Deakin has a presence in the Warrnambool CBD, the city has not fully capitalised on the potential of becoming a university town. Image: Deakin University.


If Warrnambool wants Deakin to stay, it needs visionary and strong leaders prepared to make it a true university town, argues a former State MP for the south-west, ADAM KEMPTON:

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] I[/dropcap]t is disappointing that the local leadership are confusing the need for improving educational opportunities with the need to preserve Deakin, Warrnambool campus. These are separate issues.

Clearly educational opportunities need to be improved for all students irrespective of location, economic background, or social circumstances, however that is quite separate from saving Deakin, Warrnambool. The former issue is of great concern to the broader Australian community and the latter is, of course, more parochially of concern to south-west Victoria.

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To intermingle all these issues is to confuse the situation and distract from achieving outcomes. The debate about the future of Deakin has been far too focused on governance and procedure and not enough on outcomes.

Deakin, Warrnambool grew out of the Warrnambool Institute of Advanced Education, which was elevated to university status. Some question whether these reforms were appropriate. It has since become an important educational, cultural and economic provider in this area.

The significance of each of these components is not to be understated or underestimated. The whole community has benefitted. It has enhanced significantly the local area and contributed much to uplift our community. The question remains whether this has ever been sufficiently capitalised upon.

warrnambool deakin campus
The future of the Warrnambool campus should not just be about serving local students, but students from everywhere. Image: Deakin University.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] S[/dropcap]adly, Australia has lagged behind the British and American traditions of encouraging students to study at tertiary institutions away from where they live. We have no tradition of university towns and certainly this has not been viewed as a priority in Warrnambool.

It appears that once established, little has been done to rigorously promote the relationship between Deakin and the city of Warrnambool and Western Victoria. It has been an approach of set and forget: entirely foolhardy.

In recent times there has been a real attitude of “Deakin is here and therefore it will continue along”.

There was no view that the City of Warrnambool had to continuously develop a dynamic and changing relationship with Deakin to assist Deakin and ensure that it prospered in a changing environment from which the city and the community would benefit.

A progressive view would be to enhance Deakin such that it would maximise its attractiveness to non western-Victorian students, interstate students and international students. Courses need to be targeted to service areas not covered otherwise at any other universities.

Unfortunately there is a certain local complacency, where students attend Warrnambool schools, and rather than attend tertiary institutions appropriate to their attainment levels, go to the local Deakin campus and then remain in Warrnambool for careers.

This does not optimise the situation for all and has become a default position. It has also helped deflect from need to address education disadvantage issues.

Deakin Warrnambool does not exist for Warrnambool: it is a tertiary institution that is part of the national, if not international tertiary sector and needs to be sustainable on that basis. Anything less is not sustainable and is short-sighted and foolhardy.

It is further confusing to talk about profit motive and education.

Tertiary institutions are not charities. They need to be sustainable; they need to attract students; they need to offer skills, training and the experiences that students want. They must recognise a clear demand and act to meet it. Some seem to suggest Deakin should remain in Warrnambool with diminishing student numbers – clearly ridiculous.

Federal MP for Wannon, Dan Tehan, was quoted as saying the uncertain future of Deakin in Warrnambool came as a “complete shock”. Image: Office of Dan Tehan.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] A[/dropcap]ll this comes at a time when there are huge shifts in the delivery of learning, largely driven by technology. Many argue there is really no need for bricks and mortar institutions. If there is a need for them – and there needs to be if Deakin Warrnambool is to continue to exist – then they must deliver something that warrants the huge cost of providing them.

It seems there has been a real lack of recognition of this to justify a physical campus in Warrnambool. The advantage of the physical locale of universities is not just what is provided by the university, but relates to the whole living environment around the university.

Government and the community have a responsibility here. It is insufficient for the community not to engage and accommodate and enhance this experience. A real vacuum exists locally in adding to this enhancement.

There is a lazy attitude that south-west Victoria always continues on no matter what immediate crisis occurs and that the south-west always bounces back. That view is complacent and inadequate.

All of this can be summed up in a lack of leadership.

The community entrusts its leaders to be close to community and important sectors, to have a clear vision and strategically act to deal with change and act to mitigate harmful impacts of this change.

The leadership is broad: tiers of government, regional representative groups, education interest groups, business groups, to name a few. There is commonality in membership of such groups.

But worse, the potential loss of Deakin Warrnambool campus is the result of lack of effective leadership across this region.

chapel hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is a typical example of a university town in the United States where the university is central to its existence. Image: University of North Carolina.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] T[/dropcap]he leadership needs to be ahead of the game. That means having informed and constructive consultation with the appropriate players in the sector. This must be meaningful and regular. The hands-off approach is simply not good enough.

There should be no surprises if the consultation is effective. Lip service consultation is not enough. The consultation needs to be in-confidence and those being consulted need to have confidence in those to which they are talking.

This whole saga reveals a lack of that confidence and is effectively a vote of no confidence.

The Deakin issue also reveals a scary scenario. It is insightful for similar situations and shows that the leadership is only geared to be reactive. That is not leadership.

The lack of leadership and lack of engagement across the local community means that when crises arise, there is little opportunity to address them strategically in advance. This weakness risks the horse having already bolted.

The community needs to learn lessons from what has happened here: the leadership has been vacant from the field. The next Warrnambool City Council election provides some opportunity to fix the leadership vacuum, but it needs not to stop there: all of the mentioned leadership groups need a radical overhaul.

And the whole community needs to be more the demanding of this leadership to avoid this parlous situation continuing.

newsletter Eat And Drink StonesSee an earlier Opinion piece by Toni Jenkins here: ‘Deakin can afford to stay’


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19 thoughts on “Opinion: Deakin a casualty of poor leadership”

  1. Lectures on leadership from a former MP who lost his seat after just one (short) term? No thanks.

    The blame for not promoting Deakin Warrnambool widely lies with Deakin alone. Federation University has signage on the side of trains in Melbourne promoting the Ballarat campus’ lifestyle – why isn’t Deakin doing the same?

    It’s because Deakin don’t want Warrnambool, they only care about their world ranking and Warrnambool is hurting it, so it’s time to cut off the bad limb – albeit quietly and progressively.

    The Vice Chancellors Twitter page lists her location as Melbourne and Geelong, no mention of Warrnambool. The disease starts at the head and works its way down to the base. The people to blame for this mess is Deakin.

    1. As the now rather ” severely ” wounded messenger , I note you believe the baddies are Deakin and that local leadership has no responsibility . What a foolhardy narrow view ?

    2. Sadly, Judith epitomises the narrow micro-parochial attitudes that have led to the situation at Deakin Warrnambool.
      Adam Kempton’s comments are astute and should be embraced by all Warrnambool residents and those with an interest in the southwest.
      It is astonishing that Dan Tehan was shocked by the Deakin development. That is not only an indictment of the local MP but also of those who profess to be community leaders, who should have had their finger on the pulse of the City and alerted business, educators and government.

      1. Well she is the only member of the Council that seems to care about the university. Crs Hulin, Kelson, Sycopoulis, Askew, Neoh and Ermacora have been silent on this. Mayor Gaston was the only councillor I saw at Deakin’s Open Day – while three other councillors beat their chests at the boat ramp.

  2. I’m amazed to read that Federal Member for Wannon, Dan Tehan was completely shocked that Deakin Warrnambool’s future was uncertain. Where has he been? If customer (student) numbers steadily decline, why would you not think the future of the business (Deakin Warrnambool) was questionable?

    Educational institutions can’t just exist for feel good reasons – they have to provide a service and a product and it has to be good. There is plenty of competition in the education sector, as there should be and if Deakin Warrnambool can’t sustain a product worthy of its taxpayer and student support, then it’s not surprising that its future is limited.

    What we should be asking of Dan Tehan is – where has that $14m of taxpayer subsidy ended up? Hopefully not in Deakin’s coffers if it’s deserting the stage or in Federation University’s account as it was promised for ‘transition’ purposes which never happened. $14m is a lot of hard earned taxpayer dollars and we all need to know whether it has been allocated or returned to consolidated revenue.

    Not only does the South West area of Western Victoria require leadership, it also requires viable first class products to promote. Education is a product, vitally important to the future of the country and the individuals it services, but it is a product, no different to other goods and services we consume on a daily basis.

    1. Great aspirational stuff . Let’s aspire to get beyond this mediocrity and be smart to capitalise on our natural assets

  3. Of course Deakin doesn’t want Warrnambool. Nor did Federation University or any other university. How unfair that Monash has been able to quietly unload two unsustainable campuses each with twice the enrolments of Warrnambool, without flack, and Deakin is treated as a villain. Deakin has spent millions of dollars above and beyond the normal high cost of operating the campus here, with no increase in enrolments.
    Since the removal of enrolment caps on all universities in 2012, our regional school leavers have for the first time had real choice in where they study, and the larger institutions have won, as was predicted at the time. Our best and brightest, including those studying at grammar schools at Hamilton, Ballarat and Geelong as well as our local secondary colleges, see a world beyond Warrnambool and go for it. It is fanciful to think that Warrnambool in return will attract the 5,000 city and international students needed to make a local campus viable, in a world where institutional standing is everything.
    Deakin Warrnambool already has an embarrassingly low ATAR entry score of 50, and many local potential students do not attain that. Some go straight to Ballarat with its virtual open entry, only to find the going very difficult once under way.
    We also suffer from a reduced pool of possible students because of our very low Year 12 completion rate.
    Deakin has agreed to hang in for the next two years. That gives the region time to implement a community college polytechnic style college, offering diplomas, associate degrees, and some degree studies, that will absolutely involve massive change in both what is presently Deakin Warrnambool and South West TAFE. Federation University, with its combined university and TAFE arms was our best hope, but was vigorously opposed by elitist pro-Deakin Warrnambool interests. Warrnambool’s loss is Berwick and Churchill’s gain

    1. Insightful – let’s use the Deakin issue to aspire to do better and strike a blow on the national agenda

  4. Kempton is a wily old bird and his suggestion that Warrnambool needs to become “a true University town” is absolutely on point.

    Sadly, it can’t be achieved with a branch office of an excellent large national brand (Deakin) and the only way to do this for the town is by creating a true boutique local offering of elite standard – one that would attract students from afar and that would serve the town well but,alas, the aspirations of all but a few local students not at all.

    The problem is simply this: the policy settings at national level don’t allow for this to happen, and won’t for some time yet if ever.

    1. Current ALP policy is to establish ten trial Commonwealth Institutes of Higher Education that would merge university and TAFE programs into the one institution. Check out Stephen Parker just retired Vice Chancellor University of Canberra for his commentary on the proposal in the Conversation, June 16 2016. Seems like an attempt to recover from the disastrous Dawkins reforms that saw Warrnambool Institute of Advanced Education forced into a merger take-over with Deakin in 1989-90. Warrnambool was not listed as a possible site, but Berwick, interestingly was.

  5. There are many and varied ways that businesses offering similar experiences or products gain a market share and do better than their competitors.

    In this day and age, businesses that advertise, market and promote, often inexpensively, can do very well. There are many and a varied range of businesses that have been internationally successful and can even encourage through good marketing and promotion, we parents to purchase takeaway food for our own children that can adversely effect their health and development. That’s the power of advertising…..

    Deakin Warrnambool , by marketing and promoting advantages of studying in Warrnambool could have done a great deal more to encourage enrollments. To have a blanket charge/fee for accommodation and parking across all Deakin campus’ is to say the least, absurd. Also stripping courses from Warrnambool has also damaged the “Deakin Warrnambool” brand and limited the opportunity to promote the advantages of this campus.

    There are clear financial advantages to many families to save considerable amounts of money on student accommodation. This is not rocket science.

    Has Deakin Warrnambool marketed the lifestyle options and benefits of this city. Benefits like smaller than average class sizes, the convenient rail travel, unique courses, inexpensive accommodation, free parking and so on?

    There appears to be a city wide resistance to marketing and promotion as a whole. Warrnambool is a great place to live, work and invest, but we dont tell anyone about that. Im sure everyone that watches television have seen a large amount of advertising and promotion about Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Echuca and Swan Hill. This promotions focus on locational attributes of these cities and also many of the festivals and events responsible for generating high visitor numbers, especially during the more challenging winter months. Ballarat international visitor numbers are up over 40% for this time of year. They have festivals on offer like “Winter Wonderland” and “Christmas in July” at Sovereign Hill.

    I have personally spoken to many lecturers and students who all believe strongly in the unique experience offered by Deakin Warrnambool.

    I say…. there is something worth promoting. There is something quite niche and unique.
    For goodness sake…we need to start promoting this opportunity .

    Warrnambool has been crowned Victoria’s best “Seachange Destination” and ranked third in all of Australia. This independent research was done by the “New Daily” newspaper in March of this year.

    Unless I’ve missed something, has there been any advertising or promotion around this prestigious national award?

    1. Deakin Warrnambool is not an inexpensive option for students with the exception of the very few locals who can put up with living at home for another three or four years. It costs $200 per week to live on campus plus food, books, fares and fees. We have limited part-time job options and courses that are producing a glut of graduates. Students have no interest in what tourism awards Warrnambool has won. They want info on courses, costs, jobs both now and after graduation. They value hearing from students already there, and individuals who have graduated and found work. They like small classes but not so small that you get little experience with that wider range of views that a university should offer. They value a wider range of extra-curricular clubs and societies.

  6. The simplicity of economics is often conveniently overlooked when it comes to education.

    Holistically, the government should be allocating funding to encourage education in sectors where there is the demand for the graduate’s qualification. All universities are at the peril of the government of making such overarching and sometimes unpopular decisions. After all, the taxpayer can’t be expected to assist perpetual students (save for overarching research and development objectives).

    Warrnambool should not have the sense of entitlement to expect Deakin to offer the same degrees available in their Geelong and Melbourne campases. We rather need to encourage Deakin to differentiate our Warrnambool campus, rather than let the differences in ATAR scores to perpetuate Warrnambool as being thought of as the ugly duckling.

    Deakin’s introduction of the Faculty of Medicine in Warrnambool was a great example. The students are thriving and love the lifestyle this town provides. Many of whom stay for their intern year and beyond.

    Our sublime positioning offers a comparative advantage to other institutions. It is interesting to note that Marine Biology is one of the most reputable degrees in its field in Australia. I could only imagine that an Agricultural or Veterinary Science degree could hold the same prestige in times of expanding agricultural a markets.

    1. And renewable energy – given our proximity to Keppel Prince and the wind farms…I agree Ed, specialisation/niche courses is the way to go.

    2. Deakin’s Faculty of Medicine has a branch in Warrnambool but only to service those relatively few students undertaking hospital experience here, and to undertake rural/regional research. Deakin med students must have obtained a first degree in a related field and attend the Geelong campus for an initial three year theoretical component of their med course before their fourth year in places like Warrnambool. Full-on degree studies in agriculture are failing to attract enrolments Australia wide, and are in long-term decline, with one university recently receiving only six applicants and wondering about the quality of experience they would be able to offer so few. Vet Science and related animal studies is over-provided with 18 institutions currently offering such courses in Victoria, a few full-on degree programs, many mickey mouse diplomas and certificates. Marcus Oldham a private ag college just two hours down the highway is very well regarded. Keep an eye on plans for Glenormiston which recently had a crazy PR campaign promising a host of courses that will probably never happen. Differentiate the Warrnambool campus, yes for sure, but how and with what remains the question. Specialisation/niche courses won’t give us the minimum 2,000 necessary for viability. Nor the 5,000 needed to thrive.

  7. Many of the comments though sound overlook that the Deakin risk is but a symptom of the overriding problem : a crisis of leadership . The community must demand more or we will just languish . Mediocrity is never good enough .

  8. It would be insightful to learn of the views of our local, State and Federal political representatives on this issue. Do they have a view, could they make a contribution, where are they??

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