Brigid Heywood, the University of New England's newest vice-chancellor, thinks UNE is perfectly positioned to rearticulate its contribution to remote, rural, and regional Australia.
The biological scientist and chemist began her five-year tenure at UNE in July, succeeding Annabelle Duncan, who had held the position since 2014.
"When I was appointed, it was on the basis that I would live up to the challenge of being bold, brave, inspiring, and ambitious for and on behalf of the institution and the communities it partners with," Professor Heywood said.
As vice-chancellor, Professor Heywood is effectively CEO of a multi-million dollar business. The university, she said, is both a not-for-profit social enterprise and a large commercial operation, which educates 25,000 students across Australia, and is connected to 18 other countries through international students or research partnerships.
She sees her job as also being the voice of UNE, and an advocate for education in NSW, New England, and the North-West at state and Commonwealth levels.
Fortunately, she has spent 20 years working in and for institutions that, like UNE, focus on distance and campus-based education for access and equity reasons.
She was pro-vice-chancellor at Keele University, Staffordshire (1996-2005) and of the Open University (2005-2011); assistant vice-chancellor at Massey University, New Zealand (2011-15); and, most recently, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Tasmania (2016-19).
"There aren't many executives with my kind of experience," Professor Heywood said.
She hopes she will be eager to stay beyond her five-year tenure, because she would still be learning and adding value, and that the university's Council would reciprocate.
"I would like that to happen because UNE is vibrant, refreshed, has re-engaged with its primary mission," she said.
She would like to think that the UNE choir would be singing loudly about its successes in genuinely adding value to the state's productivity, and particularly to the region's social welfare and economic progress.
The university, she believes, should be a thought leader in subject matter relevant to the region: farming, agribusiness, animal husbandry, veterinary sciences, health, social welfare, and providing education opportunities for small, remote schools.
"UNE understands the dynamics of those communities," Professor Heywood said.
She also thinks the university should be a citizen in Armidale and New England, and hopes it will be both an educational establishment and a commercial and regional partner - not the customary 'town and gown', but 'gown with town'.
"UNE is clearly deeply connected to Armidale, but maybe some work needs to be done on getting real value out of that relationship," Professor Heywood said. "We support and tolerate each other; maybe we could enrich the partnership model a bit."
Professor Heywood has already started the conversation with the Armidale Regional Council. She hopes to make the UNE library a community centre, and possibly even move it into the centre of the city. She would like to strengthen the collaboration with NERAM to increase Armidale and the region's Creativity Index; and, in a joint project betwen the city and the university, pilot the first 500-bed digital hospital for remote and rural Australia.
She was also glad that the public used UNE facilities for music and sports events, and business conferences.
"The campus is a community site," she said. "As much as it's our university, it's open to our local community."
That New England community, Professor Heywood said, has generously and warmly welcomed her.
"It feels amazing to be part of such a passionate and inspiring community," she said. "Truly, I feel enormously proud to be the Vice-Chancellor."