As my time in Melbourne comes to a close, I thought it would be a good chance to reflect on the experiences that I have been fortunate enough to have during my time with the Advancement Team at Australia’s No. 1 University.
Firstly, I have been hugely impressed by the team’s energy, enthusiasm and strategic focus. Whilst the University wide Alumni Relations team are a modest size, they have a really innovative programme facilitated through the strong leadership and vision of Leonie Boxtel. They are acutely aware that they can not do everything and so have been very focused on doing what they do well; their programme is clearly designed and refined to meet the needs and explicit desires of their alumni base and thereby continually delivers against their key objectives. As they become increasingly more engaged with their strong network of Faculty based AR staff, I think that this programme will only be further enhanced and in the months / years to come will be delivering some truly sector leading initiatives.
Secondly, whilst Alumni Relations can often be considered as ‘extra curricular’ (personally, I could write a whole blog offering evidence against this standpoint however, that is for another day…), my time at the University has reinforced in my mind just how critical Alumni Relations now is. Whilst trying not to sound too evangelical about it, as the global H.E. sector is pushed harder and harder to offer greater return on investment, diversify its income streams and offer continued improvements on graduate outcomes, I really believe that effective and embedded Alumni Relations can answer a lot of these challenges. This was particularly illuminated for me during my time at Melbourne as, whilst my original itinerary focused on meetings with individuals who had an explicit connection to my research project, my schedule quickly and continually evolved to include time with a hugely diverse range of people / Departments – many with only a tangential or implicit connection to the Advancement Team. The misconception that Alumni Relations is about ‘organising parties’ is not only wrong but potentially damaging to the sector; UoM, UVa and UoB are all pushing the boundaries of Alumni Relations and this in turn helps to develop a profession that I am proud to call my own.
Thirdly, my time at UoM has impressed on me just how critical senior internal and external support for an Advancement Programme really is. I had the pleasure of sitting in on an Alumni Council meeting during my time at UoM; Alumni Council are all volunteers, operating within a range of countries, sectors and senior networks. They are very committed (one member ‘Skyped’ in from the USA at 4.30am!), meet regularly and also offer a lot of their time to further enhance UoM’s Alumni Relations efforts outside of their formal meeting structure. I also witnessed the CASE International Leadership award being conferred on Professor Glynn Davis at the CASE Asia Pacific conference in HK last week. To have an inspirational and sector leading VC is never a bad thing (!) and to have their backing and advocacy for your work is pretty priceless. The University of Melbourne’s $500m BELIEVE Campaign is ever present on campus and there is a tangible sense that this is increasingly becoming a galvanising factor for the University both across and beyond the Advancement Team. By taking the time to promote the Campaign across a broad range of stakeholders, and clearly demonstrate how Alumni Relations can make a direct contribution to its success, the University is starting to reap the rewards of having an extended network of internal and external advocates.
Finally, I feel so privileged to have been able to immerse myself in yet another country’s H.E. environment. As you can probably tell from my earlier posts, I felt truly honoured to have spent time in the US at UVa and today I leave Melbourne with similar feelings. In any sector, I think it is pretty rare that you get to do or see your job from a different cultural perspective (let alone two) and I have found this direct comparison both inspiring and extremely helpful from a critical challenge perspective. I leave Melbourne very excited about being able to further broaden my perspective at the Universities of New South Wales and Queensland, and with a massive sense of gratitude to U21, Birmingham and all of the partner institutions that continue to make this amazing experience possible.
P.s. Big thanks must go to Leonie and every member of her wonderful team who not only shared a lot but also ensured I had a fabulous and expansive time in Melbourne. I would be delighted to repay the favour at any time!
P.P.s. Customary shots of a gorgeous campus to follow…