FEDERATION University Australia welcomed Professor Helen Bartlett to the role of Vice-Chancellor, the first female ViceChancellor of the University, a little under a year ago.
Prof. Bartlett brought with her a wealth of experience, having worked in higher education for more than 30 years and holding senior leadership roles in universities in United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Australia.
She said that she is delighted to be here as a leader and being a woman is a secondary point.
“I’m here at this point in time leading the university to the next stage of its development and I have company, in Victoria, of four other university leaders who are women,” she said.
There are various reasons why more women are not in leadership roles and Prof. Bartlett said there needs to be an approach that identifies and nurtures talent and provides the opportunities.
“So you have a pipeline of women that are being nurtured from within and coming through so that they can build their confidence and expertise so when the opportunities arise they can feel more confident about putting their hands up,” she said.
“Traditionally women have waited longer, until they feel absolutely that they tick all the boxes.
“As an organisation we need more knowledge and awareness of balanced recruitment processes that take into account the gender issues and start to remove some of the biases that may have existed previously”.
There are some disciplines, such as IT and engineering, that have the lowest representation of women because they have been male dominated fields of study and work and it will be more of a challenge in the stamped areas but there are strategies that you can use to start demonstrating to young women that they could have an career in these.
“A lot of it has to start at home within the family and at schools; it’s a bit late by the time they get to university.
We have an important role in going out to schools and showing young people the opportunities that are available to them at university or at TAFE,” Prof. Bartlett explained.
“We are really keen to get more women into trades so coming up will be a special day, women in trades, where we invite schools along and have a bit of a community campaign to say there are women in trades and it can be a good career, a good occupation.” Prof. Bartlett was educated in North West of England in Cheshire and said that she had no preconceived plans to work in the field she does.
“It has not always been a straight line because I am very curious; I like to take different opportunities,” she said.
“I had an opportunity to go and work in Hong Kong and I like to travel and enjoy a challenge and I took that opportunity with no ulterior motives about whether it would build my career, it’s because I thought the job was interesting and I wanted to do it and its one of the best things I did – it was a fascinating time in history, just before Hong Kong went back to China.” All the universities that Prof. Bartlett has worked at have all been quite different and what is unique about Federation University is that it spans the state with multiple locations.
“Each of those locations is quite different because the communities in which the campuses are situated are very different,” she said.
“So the Ballarat and surrounding community is very different to Churchill, Gippsland, to the Berwick and wider community and so what I think you get developing in each of those campuses is a culture that is reflecting and integrating with that local community and that is what I think is terrific about Federation University.
“We do really well in the national rankings for teaching quality and for employer satisfaction with our graduates, so we are amongst the best.
“I think the new Tech School is a splendid initiative because what it does is provide a site for all the schools in the region to use and for us to come in there as partners, as well, to build students ideas and aspirations, to use technology to become entrepreneurial, to help them to think also what careers are open for them in the future. So it’s a space for students to work with industry, with the university on using ideas.
“We do a lot of outreach (to schools) to try and promote our programs and it’s not just a marketing exercise, it’s about sharing with students the passion for the discipline. We do that by bringing students onto campus as well as taking staff out to schools and it’s all about engaging the students to build their enthusiasm and aspirations. We try to break down the barriers.
For many rural kids it’s a big jump from going to school to university, it’s a bit scary so we try to open up what we do so it becomes less of a mystery, less scary and they can envisage themselves here.” Prof. Bartlett said every university has its challenges, and she would be lying if she said she didn’t have any.
“In Australia there is a funding freeze on, we have to become more efficient, more creative, more innovative and we are taking the university to a new stage of development, which is very exciting, and we are looking at improving the alignment of our courses with future workforce, whatever that might be,” she said.
“What it means now is the sort of education we are providing are traditional courses for graduates to become nurses and teachers and engineers but there are all these jobs of the future that we can’t even guess what they will look like, so we have to make sure our curriculum is geared to building skills in our students that will be versatile and allow them to become analytical, to work in teams, to be problem solvers, to be confident to work on their initiative. So our courses have to ensure that we build student attributes that will prepare them for a very different world of work .” Prof Brtlett has published widely including several books and supervised over 35 higher research degree students.
Professor Bartlett also has established and led many university initiatives related to student participation, university-community engagement and transnational education.