Tasmania is providing a blueprint for international universities on the best practice for a tertiary institution to engage with its community.
The University of Tasmania and publisher Elsevier have teamed up to develop the "Tasmania Model", based off UTAS' aims and goals from its strategic directions paper.
The strategic directions paper was authored and published by UTAS vice chancellor Rufus Black in 2019.
Professor Black said a major theme of the plan was for UTAS to switch gears and engage more fully with its core community. He said it simply: "It's why we exist."
IN OTHER NEWS:
He said prior to his tenure as its head, engaging with the community "was not the organising idea of the university", but he saw it as crucial for the tertiary institution's future.
Elsevier, in particular its chief academic officer Nick Fowler, first noticed the work of UTAS when it was working with them on collecting data about how communities find out information related to climate change.
It was collecting data from people about where their most trusted sources were and during the research discovered that in Tasmania people reported they believed UTAS was one of their major sources.
"They were interested in the global question of how universities contribute positively to addressing climate change and one of the big things is the information they provide to inform people that leads to them changing their behaviour," Professor Black said.
"What they did discover was the university was a very highly trusted source for all that kind of information."
RELATED STORY:UTAS in top three universities for climate action
Professor Black said engagement and this enmeshing of UTAS in the community is a key measure of the institution's success - they want to be engaging and be involved in decisions that impact the community.
"If you look at our strategic plan, we have clear outcomes to be able to use the university's data to contribute to the improved wellbeing of Tasmania across all sectors, health, education, the economy and even into issues such as climate change," Professor Black said.
"Whether it's building a set of skills that Tasmania particularly needs, or doing the research into the health problems that Tasmania needs to be solved, or creating a new enterprises test, we wanted to be able to measure those things."
He said universities across the globe were grappling with this question of social licence, and trying to redefine their identities through contribution to their respective societies.
It's why, he said, you won't find UTAS talking much about global rankings, because those scores are not how they measure their success any more.
The "Tasmania Model" has attracted interested from universities across the globe and has led to international speaking appointments for Professor Black.
"I think what people are most interested in, is seeing why we [UTAS] are making such decisive moves in this space, and they are applying it to themselves," he said.
While he said it was great to be recognised, Professor Black admitted UTAS still had a long way to go before it fully met its targets. The strategic plan has only been in place for a year and a half.
It was released in September 2019.
"It's early days, we've got a journey to go on. But I think the pandemic's highlighted that it was absolutely the right thing to do," he said.
"Communities need their universities, whether it's creating vaccines or helping people get the skills for the jobs their going to need right now and everything in between."
The switching of gears has already led to tangible outcomes for UTAS in terms of student enrolments.
Professor Black said this year saw the biggest jump in the number of Tasmanians who chose to study at UTAS in years, and they have also recorded an increase in the number of students from the mainland.
"The impact is a long-run game, but the degree to which Tasmanians are re-engaging with us, we've seen a large increase in the number of Tasmanians coming to study with us," he said.