The conflict of ideas: Radical change at Lincoln University

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The conflict of ideas: Radical change at Lincoln University

The conflict of ideas: Radical change at Lincoln University

 The conflict of ideas: Radical change at Lincoln University

Lincoln University has been set a high bar that will take a radical structural change to achieve, writes Vice Chancellor Professor Robin Pollard.

7/02/2018 9:30:00 a.m.
The recent Transformation Board report into Lincoln University set a high bar for the institution to achieve - a globally ranked top five agriculture university and a top five university in New Zealand.

Many might wonder how we intend to realise this lofty ambition. After all, the report, while insightful about the issues Lincoln faces, offers few specific solutions by which the goal will be achieved.

It is clear, however, that nothing short of radical structural change would be sufficient. My team and I have embarked on significant and ongoing change, which we believe will in time place Lincoln University in the top academic ranks, domestically and internationally.

Lincoln will no longer be a stand-alone traditional university. It is being reorganised and repurposed to become an enabler of collaborative initiatives involving multiple parties and various academic fields of study. The target: help solve the "Grand Challenges" of the land-based sector.

By grand challenges, I mean sustainable food production, more efficient land use, restoring and protecting water sources, and fortifying the resilience of New Zealand's eco-systems. These issues are global challenges and when addressed will place Lincoln at the forefront of both academic endeavour and real-world problem resolution.

At the heart of Lincoln's small revolution is the collaborative network involving the University's academics and students, researchers from the Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) and sector organisations, academics from other tertiary institutions, here and overseas, and, in time, more private sector companies.

Substantive collaboration is already underway and is underpinned by the harmonised self-interest of each party to make the arrangements work.

All parties have to do research; universities to build reputation and CRIs to generate revenue. These motivations do not preclude cooperation and in fact the different strengths of each partner enhance the capability of the overall collaborative network.

The value for students, studying cheek by jowl with New Zealand's finest scientists, industry researchers and academics, is likewise enhanced and will drive enrolments, the lifeblood of tertiary institutions.

The new structure is based around "Disciplines and Initiatives". The collaboration between the different parties will be organised around the initiatives, so the learning is results-based and delivers value to all participants.

Each initiative will have a specific timeframe, perhaps four-to-eight years, ensuring the constant refreshment and relevance of Lincoln's academic programmes and the ongoing delivery of value to students, partners and investors.

The process of defining the disciplines and setting the initiatives is already underway. Criteria have been internally established and are next being consulted on with the CRIs and other partners. Partners will contribute members to an advisory board, which will finalise the criteria for the disciplines and initiatives and implement them.

We're looking to get multiple initiatives up and running early in 2018 and we will develop and populate the other initiatives as we grow and substantiate the success of the new multidisciplinary, multi-institutional model.

Collaboration has been ongoing for many years, more so since 2012, but on an ad-hoc basis. What we're doing now is systemising it at an institutional level.

Lincoln already has a programme that illustrates what the initiative programme will look like: The Biological Protection Research Centre, funded through the Tertiary Education Commission.

The centre is a result-focused, highly collaborative project involving researchers from the CRIs, other universities and elsewhere who are working alongside Lincoln lecturers and students to discover and resolve biological protection issues for New Zealand.

It's a nationally important project and shows how Lincoln will operate in the coming years to deliver nationally and internationally important research and innovative solutions to the issues facing the land-based sectors around the world.

I have already committed more than $1 million this year to a recruitment drive to attract international researchers to head Lincoln's initiatives projects.

We will be bringing in the best we can attract from around the world, and we are agnostic in our approach. For instance, if one of our initiatives involves water quality and restoration involving students, educators and researchers, it may make sense to increase our capability by bringing in a leader from Massey University.

Whoever is best equipped to do the job is welcome at Lincoln, both for education and research.

The model is a radical change from the traditional university model but it is the right model for a new era in tertiary education and to meet the modern challenges facing the land-based sector.