How can Australian universities improve their ability to adapt to regulatory uncertainty?

Superficially small, ground-level changes can improve the adaptability of a whole organisation. For universities, cultural change, supporting staff and co-workers, and ensuring high-quality professional communication can make all the difference.

Higher education is not traditionally a fast-moving industry.

But the sector is changing, whether or not institutions are prepared. The pandemic represents an unprecedented obstacle to the industry, with its border closures and obligate online learning, but recent regulatory changes have been equally challenging. From grant structure changes under NHMRC and the Foreign Arrangements Scheme, through to the revised HES Framework, the last two years alone have seen significant change to the regulatory landscape—enough to have commentators questioning what it means to be an Australian university.

Embracing change is a cultural challenge as well as a structural one—in fact, many believe that in large organisations, without a cultural element, any structural change is unlikely to succeed. In administration, where process is king, it can be difficult promote an open attitude towards change. However, addressing organisational culture will go a long way to helping staff and systems adapt fast.

Supporting your staff and co-workers not only contributes to the kind of workplace culture that embraces change, it also makes them better workers. During the pandemic, diverse organisations made the sudden pivot to work on public health—like how a UTS-backed biotech facility collaborated with a local skincare brand to scale up production of algae-based hand sanitiser. But despite working hard to support the community, university staff across Australia are facing uncertainties, such as an increasingly uncertain job market and pandemic stress. What does this have to do with adjusting to change? Well, even from the most pragmatic perspective, happy staff are more productive.

The lines of professional communication must be preserved. Earlier this month the Australian Financial Review published an article regarding a rule change for grants applications submitted to the ARC. Unfortunately, the failure of research offices to deliver the information to researchers cost them weeks of effort and their applications were rejected.

Change is inevitable. But institutions can be optimised to adapt to the changes that they face, and in doing so, position themselves all the better for future success.

ResearchMaster is an Australian-owned, Australian-developed research management system optimised for the demands of research across Australia and New Zealand. For more information, contact us.


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