University of Bath School of Management University of Bath School of Management

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Professor Hal Swerissen

Professor Hal Swerissen

You’re a Professor, a Dean, and a Pro Vice-Chancellor; why do you need a DBA?

I think the real answer to that question is I don’t! But I wanted to take the opportunity to get a broader understanding of what’s going on in higher education internationally and I thought that this course would be a good place to start. A critical reason was that I wanted to find a structured way of exploring the debates and the literature and to meet a number of people. And a residential approach which takes 4 weeks a year for a couple of years seemed like a really good way of intensively packing that all in. So it was a good way of using my time. For my University it’s also beneficial for someone like me to do this. The situation in Australia is changing rapidly at the moment so it’s important for me to spend some time exploring these sorts of issues.

What do you think the DBA will give you that other qualifications won’t? What’s its key differentiator?

The DBA attracted me because of the way it’s structured. It’s a residential programme which means I can come the best part of 20,000km and spend an intensive period of time and go back again rather than trying to do it in a more piecemeal way; so that was important... I also know people who have completed the programme and who said very good things about it. I also chose it because England is an easy place for someone like me to go rather than the US for example which has got a very different system. So from an ease of learning perspective the UK’s a really comfortable, straightforward place to come. For me personally, I think the other thing that’s great about the course is that I get to be away from work from the day-to-day operations of the Faculty and my Pro Vice- Chancellor’s Office. So I have the chance to think and to reflect on how this all relates to what I’m doing. It’s a good opportunity for me to take stock and it was part of what I negotiated when I took this job – I wanted to be able to develop in some areas so this was the programme that I chose. And it fits very nicely.

Obviously one of the main strengths of the DBA is that, although it’s based here in the UK, it’s made up of a very diverse international student body. Was that something that also encouraged you to apply to the programme?

Yes. The other thing that was really attractive to me is the diverse range of nationalities. There are people from the US, Canada, UAE, Morocco, Switzerland, Saudi, Ireland, Pakistan and the UK. The multinational cohort makes for some very interesting discussions as there are lots of different perspectives from bright and capable people. Also, the group size is relatively small which means that you get to know a group of people quite well, and with everyone having a relatively significant set of experiences you gain an insight into a whole range of issues. You can explore informally a whole range of topics that would be difficult to get across in other ways. So it’s a unique opportunity.

Tell me about the initiatives you’re involved in at La Trobe University and how the DBA will feed into this?

Australia is radically changing its higher education system towards a much more market-driven approach with a much greater emphasis on meeting a series of social and economic goals. The Government’s being very clear about where it wants to go. Whether it will achieve its goals remains to be seen but, as a result, universities around the country have to respond. Part of what I have to deal with is a whole range of small, regional campuses which will all need to respond. So the issues I’m faced with are:

The second thing that I have is a very large faculty – a Health Sciences Faculty – which includes Dentistry, Nursing, and a whole range of other health professions. This is rapidly changing because the nature of government policy is changing and because there are enormous shortages of health professionals; this means there’s a dramatic expansion in those programmes. As a result, I’m about two-thirds of the way through completely restructuring the curriculum and reorganising the Faculty.

There are currently around 7,000 students in the Faculty. It has six significant research centres, 10 Schools and a large international component. We have an overseas campus arrangement as well. It’s a very complex Faculty, rapidly expanding and we need to change the way we run the curriculum. We’re in the process of moving to a completely different curriculum model and we’re also changing the way we relate clinical practice in hospitals and health services so we’re moving towards a new approach and a more flexible arrangement.

As a result there’s a very significant change programme going on and I intend to look at this as a result of the thesis work I do on the programme and also some of the assignments. I plan to research what the reactions to it are amongst all of the various stakeholders – the staff and students, the external contacts we deal with – to get a sense of whether the plans for strategic change that we’ve put in place are actually working. The changes more generally will affect not just my Faculty but La Trobe University as a whole and so there are a set of consequent changes occurring at La Trobe. A broader curriculum for reform strategy is now being developed which in a sense, we were the early advocates for.

The world is changing dramatically and we all need to respond to the external environment and revaluate our strategies. I’m here to find out what’s happening in the rest of the world, what factors are currently facing HE and how we can respond and deal with these issues.

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