The University of Newcastle, Australia

Trust and collaboration drive outcomes at Heads Up

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

UON’s Heads Up group, made up of the fourteen Heads of Schools and the Director of ELFS, is now in its fourth year. As they near the end of their tenure as co-chairs, Professor Cathy Coleborne (Humanities and Social Science) and Professor Sue Anne Ware (Architecture and Built Environment) reflect on the evolution of the group and the benefits it delivers to the current cohort of Heads of School, as well as the University.

The group, which meets monthly, was originally formed as a way for Heads of School to support one another in navigating the challenges that come with the role.

Professor Catharine Coleborne“As a Head of School, you are very close to the business – in particular to the academic staff and the programs we offer – so having the opportunity to share experiences and ideas with our peers in a supportive forum has proven really valuable,” Professor Cathy Coleborne said.

The group has welcomed the close engagement of DVC(A) Professor Darrell Evans who recognises that is it is our Heads of Schools who are at the coal-face on a daily basis.

“One of our achievements over the past two years has been our collective work to ensure that Heads of Schools are better represented on senior committees and working parties,” Cathy said.

“Re-engaging with the University’s senior leadership has been a very positive aspect of our work and we are extremely grateful for Darrell’s support,” Cathy said.

The Heads Up Group chairs attend the Executive Committee on a quarterly basis, to provide updates on actions and to raise issues directly with the University’s senior leaders.

Professor Sue Anne Ware said that by coming together regularly, the group has built a solid foundation of trust and collaboration.

Professor Sue Anne Ware“It’s been really rewarding to see the spirit of the group develop in a really positive way,” Sue Anne said.

“It is a respectful forum where we support each other to advocate on behalf of our schools and our academic staff. Having the diversity of perspectives allows us to consider different ways of framing our challenges to navigate to a positive outcome,” Sue Anne said.

The group has also been instrumental in establishing a range of cross-discipline research projects.

“One of the challenges of collaboration is actually just knowing who to approach. The Heads Up group has opened the door to conversations which are now active research programs,” Sue Anne said.

Moving into 2019, the group is looking forward to engaging with the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinsky and to increasing engagement with the DVC (Research and Innovation).

Tackling issues of gender equality and diversity will also be a focus. Both Cathy and Sue Anne note that with recent movements, there is currently an issue of gender imbalance at the senior leadership level.

The group is also ready to lead on the inevitable changes to come. Both Cathy and Sue Anne agree that the Heads of School play a critical role in leading change and that with the support of their peers in Heads Up, Heads of Schools are increasingly comfortable in that space.

“Heads of School have to assist academic staff to understand and to navigate change, which we know can be challenging,” Cathy said.

“Embedding an ethos of change at UON is one of our key responsibilities as leaders,” Sue Anne said.

From 2019, the Heads Up Group will have new chairs: this process of renewal enables all Heads of School to engage our diverse group of senior leaders.


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