Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne started in her position in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to travel restrictions, she hadn’t even visited Curtin’s Bentley campus before taking up the role. Just over 18 months since starting, we caught up with Professor Hayne to see how she has settled into the role and her vision for the University, and in particular WASM:MECE.
Can you summarise your experience since taking up the Vice-Chancellor role?
The first time I stepped foot on the Bentley campus was my first day of work, April 19, 2021. My move to WA required a leap of faith both on my part and on the part of the University Council who selected me. From my perspective, my leap of faith has made my life richer. I have been extremely impressed by what I have found here.
As you will all know, Curtin is known for its industry-engaged and industry-imbedded approach to education. It is also a university that is values-driven and believes in the principles of equity and social justice. It has been an honour and a privilege to lead this university over the last 18 months and I look forward to a bright and successful future.
In terms of Kalgoorlie, I visited the campus within weeks of arriving in WA. I spent much of my childhood in Colorado, so I grew up with the same red dirt and blue sky that characterises the landscape of the Goldfield’s region. I immediately felt at home. During that first visit, I had the unique opportunity to visit the Super Pit with Raleigh Finlayson, and he patiently provided me with a tutorial on open-pit mining. I also attended a graduation on that visit and the WASMA function later that night.
Since then, I have enjoyed multiple visits to the Kalgoorlie campus and I have had the opportunity to meet staff and students. One of my fondest memories so far was late last year when I travelled to Kalgoorlie for the Prime Minister’s announcement of the funding of our university department of rural health. Although the funding announcement was fantastic, the best part of that visit was the opportunity to watch students practicing for the mining games!
One of your main focuses has been the student experience – can you outline what this involves and how this has evolved from previous strategies?
For any high-performing organisation, each strategy plan should build on the one before it. Curtin’s strategic journey has been characterised by achievements that reflect the focus of our strategic direction at a particular point in time. For example, across successive strategies, we have worked to improve the quality and impact of our research and to strengthen and expand our presence around the Indian Ocean Rim. We will continue to do those things, but as part of Strategy to 2030, we will also have a laser focus on the student experience, including the quality of our teaching.
How does WASM:MECE fit into this?
As the oldest Curtin campus, WASM:WECE will continue to be a flagship for teaching, research, and industry engagement. We have a long history of preparing mining professionals for the world of work and our students are highly sought after once they graduate. I was particularly impressed that, during that first graduation that I attended in Kalgoorlie, every student who crossed the stage was already employed in the industry. Going forward, we need to work hard to find new ways to ensure that our students are not only successful once they graduate, but that they also have a world-class experience along the way. We are working with the Schools, the Faculties, and the students to make sure that the Curtin journey is engaging, enjoyable, and memorable.
What are some other areas you are focusing on?
Across the wider university, we have a number of high-profile projects on the go. Earlier this year, the Government announced funding for the Curtin-led Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Trailblazer, valued at over $200 million. The Trailblazer will add significant value, resilience, and sovereign capability throughout Australia’s critical minerals and hydrogen energy value chains. This major partnership with government and industry will help to deliver the skills and the future workforce we need to realise the benefits from the resources that are essential components of clean energy technologies.
In addition, during his maiden speech to the sector, the new Minister for Education, the Honourable Jason Clare announced funding for the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. This funding will allow us to extend the current research footprint of the Centre to include the implementation and evaluation of new trials designed to increase the success of students from a wide range of equity categories. Although the Centre is located at Curtin, it will be a national resource for the higher education system.
We are also continuing to build on our commitment to enhancing the health and well-being of the people of rural, regional, and remote WA through both our medical school and the new university department of rural health that will have a strong presence in Kalgoorlie.
How can WASMA and industry help with these strategies?
The leading universities around the world are those that are blessed with a strong alumni base – just like WASMA. Alumni are a two-way bridge to industry and to the world at large. Not only do alumni provide scholarships and industry connections for our students, they also provide them with opportunities for work placements and, ultimately, jobs. But alumni do more than this. They bring good ideas to the University about the essential knowledge requirements of industry, which our researchers can then work collaboratively with industry to solve. The best student experience and the best innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens when universities and their alumni come together. That’s how strategies are delivered to the benefit of the whole community.