Ladies leading Deakin’s premium student learning experience

Life for students at Deakin University has been transforming over the past decade, especially since the University embarked on its LIVE the Future strategic agenda in 2012.

In addition to the strong leadership provided by the Vice-Chancellor and the Executive, seven women in particular have worked together with Professor Beverley Oliver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, to transform the Deakin student experience across five integrated stages: Choosing Deakin; Getting Started; Learning and Achieving; Feeling Safe, Supported and Engaged; and Being Connected and Employment Ready.

“Even though we report to different members of the Executive, this group of women has worked as a team, along with many other colleagues, to ensure we create a seamless student experience, regardless of the student’s personal circumstances and ambitions,” said Professor Oliver.

“Our core offer is to educate students for the jobs and skills of the future using elegant digital tools and campus environments.”

Every student at Deakin experiences a premium digital environment, including the 12,500 students who study completely online through Deakin’s Cloud Campus.

Executive Director of Marketing, Mrs Trisca Scott-Branagan uses a wide variety of digital marketing strategies and channels to engage with prospective students.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning, Professor Liz Johnson has responsibility for curriculum enhancement. “This includes implementation of a range of employability strategies such as assessments that simulate tasks in the working world; quality learning resources that are available in a range of modes to suit user bandwidth; and connections with industry,” said Professor Johnson.

Academic Registrar, Ms Fofi Hronopoulous ensures from behind the scenes that multiple ways and times for students to start or advance in their courses are possible.

“Regardless of where they live or how they enrol, students enjoy easy access to support services including coaching and mentoring,” said Ms Corinna Ridley, Manager of Student Academic and Peer Support Services.

“At a time when graduates are finding it harder than ever to break into the workforce, formally recognising the sorts of skills employers demand is critically important,” said Professor Dineli Mather, Pro Vice-Chancellor Graduate Employment.

The strategy has helped Deakin surge in student satisfaction and graduate employability rankings in recent years. Deakin was ranked third in Australia for graduate employability by the “Times Higher Education” in November 2016 and has maintained the highest level of Overall Student Satisfaction among Victorian universities for the past seven years (AGS 2010–2016).

The Director, Cloud Campus, Ms Lucy Schulz nominates collaboration within the leadership team and across the University – including with students – as central to the success of Deakin’s strategy.

“We realised we had to leave our own interests at the door, so we could look at the University from the student’s perspective,” she said. “We have been working very closely with many people from the Faculties and with many students, through focus groups, trials and user experience mapping.

“We have been able to introduce these changes easily because staff want to do a great job and help each other and especially the students, who are our primary concern. This is inherent in the values at Deakin. We hold a shared belief that we really need to transform to meet the challenges of massive disruption to education.”

Executive Director of Channels and Platforms, Ms Lynn Warneke collaborates with and enables colleagues across all five stages to digitise processes, apply user experience techniques to product design and introduce emerging technologies that support new ways to improve the student experience.

“Our goal is to provide a more engaging, effective and delightful experience that matches what students are receiving in other parts of their life, like online social interactions, and retail or entertainment,” said Ms Warneke.

Challenges facing universities, and society more broadly, include the unknown future of work, disrupted education and business models, the growth in massive open online courses (MOOCS), rising costs and fee deregulation, and volatile international student mobility.

In the face of such an uncertain environment, this team of women has a much clearer grasp of where Australian universities are headed than most.

“When trying to determine the trajectory of major societal change, like digital disruption, we tend to underestimate the scale and overestimate the speed of change,” said Ms Warneke.

“There will be profound shifts in how we go about being educated, but we are not machines. People still have a fundamental need to connect with each other.”

Professor Oliver added: “It’s a great privilege to work with such an inspirational group of women from so many portfolios across the University.”

Leaders: Student Learning & Experience Plan 2016-2020

  • Professor Beverley Oliver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education
  • Ms Lucy Schulz, Director, Cloud Campus
  • Mrs Trisca Scott-Branagan, Executive Director, Marketing
  • Ms Fofi Hronopoulous, Academic Registrar
  • Professor Liz Johnson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning
  • Ms Corinna Ridley, Manager, Student Academic and Peer Support Services
  • Professor Dineli Mather, Pro Vice-Chancellor Graduate Employment
  • Ms Lynn Warneke, Executive Director, Channels and Platforms.

Strengthening the focus on jobs

An important boost to graduate employment was Deakin’s decision in 2015 to create the position of Pro Vice-Chancellor Graduate Employment – an Australian first.

The successful appointee, Professor Dineli Mather, has introduced a swathe of initiatives to improve graduate employment.
“Today’s graduates face the challenge of trying to get a foothold in one of the toughest labour markets in history,” Professor Mather said.

DeakinTalent, the University’s new graduate employment portal, has taken career development and employment services online. The social business platform lets students explore and connect with employers, and links them to career development and application workshops, which empower them to market themselves to prospective employers.

Preparation for workplace success begins on a student’s first day at Deakin. Key employability skills are embedded in every Deakin course: communication, digital literacy, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, self-management, teamwork and global citizenship.