Do You Know Your Uni?

Many students may not have any more awareness of UNE’s Chancellor than in that fleeting ceremony, a few months, a year, five years from now, when he shakes your hand and passes you your certificate of graduation. But who is the Chancellor? What does he do and why is he there?


The Honourable Mr Watkins aka John Appointed: April 2013 Role: UNE Councillor, university advocate and public figurehead

John Watkins has served - amongst a suite of other ministerial roles - as Minister for Education, and cites a love of and a background in education as key motivations to take up the role of Chancellor.

The ceremonial role is an important one for the Chancellor, who holds a distinct position at graduations, formal college dinners and other events. But he also plays a part in management - which means influencing the direction of UNE policies, providing guidance and helping develop the vision and direction the university takes. Like the Chair of a Board – in this case, UNE Council – the Chancellor ensures that business gets done and that protocols are followed, but takes a distinctly hands-off approach.

And thirdly, the Chancellor is a public figurehead and advocate of his or her university - a representative of the university who speaks on its behalf, including at a federal level.

“The Chancellor’s role is an ancient one and requires a high level of integrity as central to the role is the protection of the reputation of the University.” – John Watkins


You reach over and pick up a newspaper, shake out the pages and read. You see in the higher education news that UNE’s Vice-Chancellor is promoting online learning. You stop and think. What is a Vice-Chancellor? Who is he, what does he do and why? How does he make decisions that affect how more than 20,000 students learn and develop their knowledge and experiences?


Prof. James Barber aka The VC Appointed: February 2010 Role: university CEO, decision-maker and busniess manager

Jim Barber has worked in numerous universities, both in Australia and overseas. He says that whilst he never aimed to be a Vice-Chancellor, “one thing led to another” and after a series of other positions was offered to apply for the role at UNE.

Essentially the VC is like the general manager: if you look at a university as a business, the Vice-Chancellor is the. The VC assumes the responsibility of that institution: he needs a good grasp of every aspect of the functioning of the university, and its plans, actions and direction are developed and implemented by him. He ensures the day-to-day business goes on, and takes a hands-on approach to making things happen and putting plans into action.

He’s surrounded and assisted by the Senior Executive: a Chief Operating Officer, a Chief Financial Officer, a Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and two Pro-Vice Chancellors. Each of these provide information, advice and action in particular areas of management, each being responsible for different areas ranging from the multi-million dollar annual finances of the university to the maintenance of academic standards. The VC is a member of and has to report to a number of subcommittees, including those that deal with infrastructure, finance, and other important decisions – like whether to bestow someone with an honorary uni degree.

“The job of the Vice-Chancellor is to create the circumstances so that the university can do its best work and provide the best service it can to students.” – Jim Barber


Steering the Good Ship UNE: Governance and Management

The roles of Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor can be seen as two sides of a coin: on one side, the Chancellor chairs the UNE Council, providing guidance and governance, and on the other, the VC listens to council, makes those ideas happen through the management structure, and reports back. The VC has to answer, ‘what are we going to do about X issue’, and the Council monitors the work of the VC. In principle, and in usual practice, the Chancellor has no place in interfering with the VC’s actions, although UNE has seen examples of this in the past.

Governance: the role of UNE Council is to make sure everything is running properly, that good structures are in place, and that the VC is doing his job; they approve ‘high-level’ strategy decisions such as passing the business plan developed by the VC, and accept or deny large finance decisions such as the proposal to build a new college.

Management: The VC with the advice and information provided by the Senior Executive. The VC can make limited financial decisions independent of Council, up to $2 million. Problems are brought to his attention and it is his responsibility to deal with them.

The positions of Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor are two prominent roles in a vast structure of management, governance, services and administration which are the necessary complement to the more obvious educational, academic and research facets of universities. Both have a crucial responsibility in effecting the vision and direction of the university, and ultimately impact upon the success of students and, by extension, the reputation of UNE. They on the highest levels create the environment in which our university educations take place. No easy task, perhaps, in a political climate such as the current one, where government attitudes and funding cuts put constant pressure on universities.


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