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  • Gilbert Kruidenier

Change at Universities

Today is my 1-year job anniversary at UQ and it’s the first time in 8 years that I’ve stayed with an organisation for 12 months in a row. It’s a strange experience because I also resigned last week. No dramas, I’ve simply done my best work and it’s time for something else.

UQ is the third university I’ve worked at in the past six years. Reflecting on my experiences, I recommend taking a job at a university, but…there are some things that you should know.

· Universities are a business first and education provider second. I'm all for it, but if you join all starry-eyed, thinking you’ll help shape the minds of the future, you’re only partly right. It takes a lot of money for buildings, staff and research and change work is not always a priority.

· The service model is changing, budgets are tight, even for the Top-10. Finance is running the show, especially in the back-office areas, ‘efficiency’ projects everywhere you look.

· Universities are portrayed as being change-resistant fortresses of inertia. My insider view is there is so MUCH change with so MANY priority projects happening at once, that it looks like things are moving at a glacial pace. In reality, there’s only so much capacity and energy and it’s spread out wafer thin. All in a bid to keep up with the rankings and a post-Covid world.

· Strategic focus is missing. No wonder, as leaders are pulled in many directions every day. I don’t think I could do any better, the system is broken and needs fixing, but the pull of tradition and heritage is (currently) still stronger than the appetite to make hard choices.

· You won’t get rich, but it’s hardly the poor house. Universities generally pay a bit less, but still upwards of $100,000 for manager roles and for the specialist roles $130,000+17% superannuation. Like I said, hardly the poor house and the work-life balance is very good.

· Speaking of that, universities are hungry beasts and no matter how much commitment and dedication you feed them, they will always need more. If you have boundary issues you will struggle, the work is never done.

· Change, comms and project maturity is low in most areas, you’ll be the expert by default. I’ll let you make your own list of how that’s a good (opportunities) and bad (workload) thing at the same time.

· The cliches about academics are outdated and unhelpful. Refuse to ‘other’ them and get to know them. You’ll be amazed by their creativity, work ethic and enthusiasm for their field. Those are the vast majority, not the few remaining relics of the past everyone likes to joke about. They work hard, be nice to them.

So, is it worth it? 100%. I’ve worked with dozens of exceptional people, who were so.very.good. at their jobs and I’ve seen the impossible get done on repeat. You’ll have lots of great opportunities and your only limit will be your imagination and available time. Give it a go, see how you like it!

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