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Arriving to take over the management of the University of Canberra (UC) amid a global pandemic was never going to be ideal.
But new Vice-Chancellor Paddy Nixon is trying to look on the bright side.
For one thing, the technologist and computer scientist who was previously the Vice-Chancellor of the multi-campus Ulster University in Northern Ireland managed to get a spot on the last Qantas flight into Sydney last month with his wife and two children.
He takes that as a portent of good fortune.
They immediately went into self-isolation in Canberra at the Vice-Chancellor’s residence on the Bruce Campus.
Yesterday he held a virtual Town Hall meeting with his staff as the UC’s sixth Vice-Chancellor where he committed to guiding the UC through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
“Although this pandemic has created uncertainty, higher education and reskilling can provide new opportunities and positive potential for the future,” he said.
The University of Canberra is implementing six-month short courses in areas of national priority such as health, digital communications and IT, with further opportunities in other areas to be rolled out from June.
Professor Nixon, who was the first in his family to attend university, said he carried a “personal understanding of the significant impact a university education can have and, hence, I am deeply passionate about the civic role of a university and its core purpose of educational opportunity for all.”
He saw the student experience at the heart of a successful university and under his leadership, Ulster University was awarded the Times Higher Education award for Most Improved Student Services.
With the ACT due to begin Term 2 through distance education, Professor Nixon sought to assure college students in particular that UC was adapting quickly to the new circumstances.
The UC was already accelerating a number of pathways to entry beyond an ATAR, including the Schools Recommendation Scheme; the Educational Access Scheme; the Portfolio Entry Scheme and entry pathways for professionals.
“No Year 12 student—or anyone looking to reskill for life-long learning—will be left behind, with many alternative pathways for higher education,” he said.
“Here at the University of Canberra, we don’t believe ATAR scores provide the full picture, and we want to ensure that students out there who have the will to study and the initiative to work hard and apply themselves at university will have the opportunity to do so.”
He was also proud to see so many members of the university community contribute to the city during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The way that UC has stepped up to support Canberra and the ACT region is nothing short of extraordinary. From providing senior nursing staff to key roles to assisting the transition to teaching online in our schools, UC has been working with our community every challenging step of the way.”
Students had even undertaking voluntary training and work to assist with contact tracing of instances of and response to COVID-19.
Personally, it has been a challenging time for Professor Nixon to try and familiarise himself with the university when there are so few students or staff on campus.
“Campus doesn’t feel right without that vibrancy and energy, although I have been able to see a lot of beauty in the bush campus.”
He was very much looking forward to interacting with the UC community in person once it was safe to do so and noted that the unprecedented change created by the global pandemic also provided him with perhaps greater freedom in leading the university forward.
“Coming in, it gives me a chance to look at things afresh. The status quo is not something we can entertain anymore.”
He also paid tribute to the stamina of Interim Vice-Chancellor and President Belinda Robinson “for guiding the university through an unprecedented time of intense external forces from January to April—from bushfires and hailstorms, to the transition to a virtual campus due to the pandemic.”