“We live in interesting times,” said UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs during his opening address at the UTS Symposium: Advancing the Public Benefit of Universities.
The symposium sought to begin a community and cross-sector conversation about the role of the 21st century university and played host to diverse speakers and leaders across universities, trade unions, businesses, industry, not-for-profit and non-governmental organisations, and community groups.
Notable speakers included the two key notes, Marc Stears (formerly New Economics Foundation UK) and Professor Raewyn Connell (University of Sydney), as well as the Hon Verity Firth (Executive Director, Social Justice at UTS), Dr Cassandra Goldie (Chief Executive Officer, ACOSS), Tim Dodd (Higher Education Editor, The Australian) and Patricia Forsythe (Sydney Business Chamber). Other key UTS speakers included Professor James Goodman, Dr Tamson Pietsch, Professor Larissa Behrendt and UTS Students’ Association President Lachlan Barker.
The all-day event saw panel and audience members discussing a broad range of topics including the public benefit of universities, their social and research impact, issue of declining public trust and political agendas relating to the higher education sector.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the higher education sector, Professor Brungs is optimistic, arguing that universities are places of absolute hope and opportunity.
“It is pivotal that universities consider how, in today’s world, they drive their contribution to public benefit. And to consider how to broaden the direct engagement with, and listen to the community, to increase effectiveness of the role of universities as advocates and thought leaders on issues that directly concern and impact communities.”
Moving forward Professor Brungs sees the issues surrounding universities as being dealt with in three ways: rethinking the traditional pathways through which universities engage with the public, increasing the scale and depth of their engagement, and finally deepening relationships with communities that surround universities.
These ideas are at the heart of UTS’s newly developed Social Impact Framework. Through an articulation of a broader vision for the role of universities, the framework sets to guide UTS’s future contribution to this space.
Leading these efforts is UTS’s Executive Director, Social Justice, Verity Firth. “It’s important for universities to remember their core mission,” says Firth. “It is up to individuals and institutions to lead processes that encourage the building of shared agendas for change. Universities are uniquely placed to help drive collaborations; we have the resources and the people and we should embrace our public purpose role.”