Rob Bishop from Hays interviews Professor Joanne Wright on emigrating to Australia
Joanne commenced with the University of South Australia in Adelaide as the Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic from the University of Sussex where she had held the position of Pro Vice Chancellor: Education. During her three and a half years at Sussex, Joanne successfully led the drive to improve teaching and learning indicators, especially student satisfaction. She also championed the process of curriculum rationalisation and renewal which led to significant increases in all categories of student enrolments.
Prior to her role at the University of Sussex, Joanne was Dean of the Faculty of History and Social Science at Royal Holloway, University of London. She was concurrently the Director of European Studies and a Professor of International Relations. Whilst at Royal Holloway, Joanne was also awarded a prestigious Jean Monnet ad personum Chair in European Security Integration, one of only 9 awarded in the UK.
Joanne has held teaching and research positions at a number of UK and Australian Universities, including, Melbourne, Queensland, St Andrews, Ulster, London and Sussex. She has taught extensively at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and has published numerous books and articles on various aspects of state and sub-state security.
Joanne has a BA (Hons) in Politics and Government and History from the University of Kent at Canterbury, an M.Litt in Strategic Studies from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD in International Relations from the Australian National University. She has served on many government and university groups. For example, she has been an Arts Commissioner for the City of Brighton and Hove and a trainer of Senior Managers for the UK based Group of 94 Universities. Having previously worked in Australia in1984 and 1985, Joanne always intended to return and has recently done so in her new position with the University of South Australia.
1) You’ve recently relocated from the UK. What attracted you to UniSA and what is it about UniSA that makes it unique?
The vision and drive of a dynamic Vice Chancellor who is highly respected amongst his peers was of huge appeal. The wide spread buy in within the University to improve performance was a real positive. UniSA is a relatively new University at an early stage of its existence and wants to develop research and benchmark against the best in the world. This creates scope for creative people in research and teaching who are backed by the required resources. In turn, this presents a rare opportunity to join a University and to be actually seen to make a difference.
What was also very attractive to Joanne was that her appointment at UniSA has enabled her to take her career to the next level and these types of opportunities do not come around very often. One other point to note is that the growth rate over the last five years within UniSA has been quite steep and, as such, is very rare. This in turn leads to a dynamic and open environment which presents positive opportunities.
2) Why are you targeting the UK for people?
The UK has a phenomenal record in producing high quality creative academics who find it comfortable to interact with the Australian academic culture. The culture of the Australian academic sector is undoubtedly similar to the UK. Whilst there are differences, these are not totally alien (such as in North America). Indeed, much about Australian Universities is similar to the UK university network 20 years ago (in a good way!). Eg. the quality of a UniSA four year Honours degree is easily equivalent to obtaining a Masters in the UK; good student support, values and assessments are also familiar to the UK – the quality assessment regime and regulatory environment are not too dissimilar to the UK i.e. it is not difficult for UK academics to adjust to.
UK academics can certainly maintain a far superior lifestyle in Australia – the climate, the outdoor lifestyle, lots of interesting places plus schooling is fabulous. This last point is highly relevant for academics with families. For example St Peters School in Adelaide has produced three Nobel prizes winners whilst the International Baccalaureate School achieved two perfect 48 out of 48 scores in 2009 which equates to University Scholarship material. Also, it is well known that the UK is enduring tough financial times and Australia has much to offer!
3) What type of people are you looking for?
As explained in question one, UniSA are looking for creative contributors who want to make a difference.
4) It’s often felt that coming to Australia means taking a pay cut. Is this true?
Not necessarily. If one compares similar roles ie. Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and professorial staff, the salary levels appear to be comparable due to the current exchange rate between the Australian dollar and UK pound. However, salary levels should not be the only tangible that is compared as it is more relevant to investigate what one can buy with the dollar e.g. petrol is cheaper, schooling is cheaper and some types of accommodation will be cheaper. Overall there is no question that one can enjoy a far superior lifestyle when one looks beyond ones take home salary.
5) How does working for an Australian University differ to a UK university?
The similarities are more striking than the differences i.e. quality programs, high quality research, dealing with external agencies plus similar structural systems will all be familiar to UK academics. However, there are some contextual differences which should be noted. For example, league tables exist in the UK, and whilst not driving what academics are engaged in, there is always an awareness of them. In Australia the cultural imperative to attend local Universities ensures that each University is competing in a local market. There are also fundamental differences in student funding, student recruitment and liaison with State and Federal Government agencies between the UK and Australia. This direct interaction certainly presents opportunities in the Australian Academic sector.
6) What’s life like in Adelaide?
Adelaide is culturally rich. Having recently been the Arts Commissioner for the City of Brighton and Hove in the UK, there are very real cultural similarities in the two locations. Alternative lifestyles are accommodated and this is allied to a vibrant liberal culture. Other highlights include a huge number of high quality restaurants, a renowned (and growing) wine region and quality beaches. It is also reasonably easy to get about.
Adelaide has recently redefined itself as the City of Festivals having previously been known as the City of Churches. Adelaide also has a very well established sporting scene including cricket, football and Australian Rules Football, or AFL as it is known.
7) What’s been the best thing about coming to Australia to work?
The ability to 'actually' change things for the better is a huge bonus. To be creative, to help others achieve their goals and to help oneself progress are all obvious positives. To be supported in all the above is absolutely fantastic. To be working in an environment where 'space' is hugely prevalent has obvious benefits and presents a better vibe!