Dean Forbes



Flinders University Council Presentation

7 June 2012

Professor Dean Forbes

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International & Communities)

Flinders University

I was asked to talk about some of our achievements over the 12 or so years that I have been a senior executive at Flinders, and strategic matters that are being, or need to be, addressed.

I will start with the University’s international program (Key Strategy 6), and follow with brief mention of community engagement activities (Key Strategy 1).


The internationalisation of Flinders is not solely about international students, but since the opening of universities to fee-paying international students in 1986, it has become central to the University’s engagement outside Australia.

Flinders achieved significant growth in international students in the period from 2000-2011.

1,214 international student enrolments in 2000 grew to 3,927 in 2011. That is an average annual growth rate of 16.2%. Flinders 78 international research students in 2000 increased to 231 in 2011, an average growth rate of 12.7% pa. Overall, international student revenue of $10.3mill in 2000 grew to $38mill in 2011, an average of 14% pa.

International student graduates between 2000 and 2011 total 9,661.

Onshore international students at Flinders come from over 100 countries. They are spread across the Faculties, with the largest numbers in Health Sciences. This is unlike most Australian universities where they are clustered in business schools. Business students comprise about 25%, less than half of the proportion for universities as a whole.

The story of Flinders international students is very positive.

Our International Student Barometer (ISB) student satisfaction results from 2008-2011 are outstanding. Flinders ranked first in Australia in 2008, second in 2009, fourth in 2010, and first again in 2011. Across all the key ISB measures – arrival, living, support and learning, and willingness to make a recommendation – Flinders has performed better than any other Australian university.

High levels of student satisfaction have also been recorded among our independently surveyed AusAID students; it was also commented on in our recent ESOS audit.

A Flinders student won the inaugural Governor’s International Student of the Year Award in 2011.

Around two thirds (67.2%) of our international students are onshore and a third (32.8%) are offshore. In 2009 we participated in the first pilot of the Transnational Education Student Barometer (TNESB) along with four (brave) UK and four Australian universities. Flinders achieved the highest levels of overall satisfaction within the group (91%).

We were the first Australian university to establish an offshore course in Europe, launching a nursing program in Norway in 1999 before winding down in 2007. The program was recognised for its pioneering role in Making a Difference, the book published in 2010 celebrating 25 years of international education in Australia.

Our main partnership is with Nankai University. The first Masters course with Nankai was launched in 2000, and the second in 2004; the third, in educational leadership and management, will commence later this year. In a recent ranking of Asia’s universities by Leiden University, Nankai was ranked as the top research university in China and the fourth best in the Asia-Pacific (the ANU achieved the highest rating for an Australian university at 6th). It is a partnership we must continue to consolidate.


While international students are a big part of Flinders international program, there are two other themes of importance.

First, creating opportunities for students to travel abroad as part of their academic program, and internationalising the student and staff experience on campus.

Some 201 Flinders students went abroad in 2011, up from 174 in 2010. We remain, however, below the national benchmark. I will explore this a little later.

Most of the funding to support student mobility comes from competitive bids to the Federal Government. The International Office won $332,500 in 2011 to support student mobility, up from $211,000 in 2010.

Some $133,000 of this was allocated to meet increased demand for short-term programs. It will support seven projects enabling 62 students and six staff to travel abroad this year.  This includes the high-profile Washington Internship, two programs in Malaysia, and one each in China, the Philippines, Nepal and Norway.

Providing overseas Work Integrated Learning (WIL) experience is of growing importance to our students. We are now trying to broaden the opportunities, and have partnered with the Academic Internship Council (AIC) in San Francisco.  Six students travelled to California at the beginning of the year to take up WIL placements in biotechnology research, publishing, social work and legal services. Some 127 students have signed up to participate in a webinar about the 2013 program

Flinders was a founding member of the International Network of Universities (INU). In late 2011 the Japanese government announced a grant of $US5 million to Hiroshima University to expand the INU Global Citizenship Program that runs an undergraduate student seminar and graduate summer school in Hiroshima in August each year. Around 80 students participated in 2011. The funding will enable the continuation of the Global Citizenship programs for the next five years, and the addition of a graduate program on coastal environments and an undergraduate program in nursing.  

The second important area of internationalisation is building international collaborations, especially in research.

Late last year David Day and I undertook a university wide assessment of our international research collaborations. A survey asked individual researchers to identify their main collaborators.

The results were revealing. Flinders staff had in excess of 932 research collaborations outside Australia.  295 (32%) were with the USA, and 144 (15%) with the UK. Next in line were Canada (90), Germany (42), China (33), New Zealand (31), Japan (28) and France (27).

60% of our research collaborations are with the main English speaking countries; the US, UK, Canada and NZ. Europe accounts for 35% of collaborations.

How many were in the emerging Asian powerhouses of research? China, as I mentioned, had 33; Singapore 14; India 7; Malaysia 4; Thailand 3; Korea 2; Indonesia 2. And to round it off for the BRICS: 15 with Brazil; 2 in Russia; and 14 in South Africa.

The global knowledge hotspots are changing: China and India are the two identified in the Strategic Plan. In the near future our priorities should include Indonesia.

The most significant university initiative we have is the Joint Research and Education Centres with Central South University and Hunan University in Changsha, Hunan Province, China. Both are top-ranking Project 985 Chinese universities. They are hungry to collaborate, and well supported by their government. The three universities have invested in joint pilot research projects. The outcomes of the 12 funded pilot projects will be presented at seminars in Changsha in October 2012.


What is the outlook, and how do we go forward? I believe there are three main areas where we need to concentrate.

First, we must continue to grow our international student numbers in a difficult global market. Everyone here will be familiar with the downturn in international students across Australia. Total international student revenue declined from $18 billion in 2009/10 to $15.8 billion in 2010/11. This caused the loss of an estimated 26,500 jobs in Australia (Olsen 2012 p3).

The first half of 2012 has hit the universities with considerable force. Across the sector university commencements are down over 7%, with forecasts of a drop of 10% in Semester 2.

Flinders international commencers dropped by 10% in Semester 1. Semester 2 applications are up 24% (at 30th May), but it is too early to predict the outcome in terms of student enrolments.

Flinders needs to continue to build our online marketing and recruitment, and customer relations management. And be flexible in our use of social media.

The speed of processing student applications is also crucial. We have been streamlining the management of applications by contracting SATAC to undertake the initial processing. There is more to be done on this.

Longer term, the Flinders International Study Centre (FISC) will provide foundation and diploma programs to students on pathways into full degree programs; it will have its first intake in 2013. The FISC will help to increase the flow of international students into the University, and ensure they are well prepared for university study. It will provide a particularly important feeder into the Flinders Business School.

A key question will be how much effort should be given to the growth of offshore programs? There are opportunities, particularly in the Middle East, and in India in coming years. We have a joint degree delivered in Malaysia in partnership with HELP University. Increasingly partner universities aiming to grow their international reputations, especially in China, will expect more of these kinds of arrangements.

The offshore business model is different than for on campus students. Fees can be the same (Singapore), or lower (China), and revenue is split with the partner, who provides the infrastructure and student support. Risks are greater. TEQSA, the new regulatory authority, will pay close attention to offshore programs. 

Second, we need to reform our teaching models and pedagogy by deciding the best way to meet the future learning needs of our students, and how we can leverage the new ICT technologies increasingly impacting on higher education. 

Unlike in the past, knowledge is available online, in abundance. So, what do students need from us? Roger Hadgraft (2012) says ‘graduates need to acquire integrative disciplinary skills together with the theory and knowledge that underpins them’. ‘It is an opportunity to reinvent the university (and if we don’t, someone else will)’.

The discussion is already underway at Flinders.

I have a particular interest in this, because our future success in onshore and offshore international markets will depend upon our ability to provide a competitive, more flexible education.

For example, some of our off-shore programs make extensive use of supported online learning. Lecturers meet with students for intensive teaching sessions, but much else is done online. However, other programs use relatively little. Supported online learning should be the primary way that we teach all our off-campus and offshore programs, especially if we continue to increase the scale of those programs.

Third, if Flinders is to remain competitive, we need to significantly strengthen our global brand and build the culture of internationalisation within the University. The two are connected.

Our global brand is weak. It is one of the reasons we don’t do better in the Times Higher Ed and QS rankings. Each gives significant weight to surveys of academics around the world about recognition and reputation.

Both academic and professional staff must acquire better international skills and a more international outlook. Currently it is limited, though I have no way of formally substantiating this.

It has implications for the way we address the issues that confront us in the future.

The pace of change in universities in Singapore, Korea and China is remarkable. Even in the US, the appetite for reform is changing, as illustrated by the move towards providing unrestricted free access to curricula. As an institution we need to understand this better, and with it, undertake more meaningful international benchmarking; currently we do relatively little either quantitative or qualitative benchmarking.

Understanding more about global change in higher education will help drive the innovation agenda at Flinders. It will also facilitate the building of research collaborations in Asia’s emerging knowledge economies.

We also need to strengthen the support for our staff in expanding their capacities to deal with international students. Teaching staff require more direction in guiding students to acquire global skills through internationalising curricula.


Flinders has a solid reputation for its’ community engagement activities. As the Vice-Chancellor often reminds us, it is not by chance that it is Key Strategy 1.

I acquired formal responsibility for parts of the community engagement program in 2004, before it became incorporated in my job title in 2009. Undoubtedly the real transformation came with the success in winning $3.5 million from the Commonwealth through the Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund.

This enabled the establishment of the Southern Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (SKTP) Office. It has given a huge boost to our engagement with the southern suburbs.

A new University database on engagement in the south is on our website: there are over 200 entries. In the future all our community engagement activities will be included on the database. The Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law will be the first to do this.

SKTP funds enabled the creation of 34 Knowledge Exchange Grants (KEGS), each to support collaboration between University staff and community partners; almost every project appears to be achieving good results.

A Science and Maths Academy was created at Flinders. In 2011 84 students from 6 southern schools were taught high level physics, chemistry and mathematics on campus by high school teachers supported by Flinders staff. This helped overcome the weaknesses in science programs in southern high schools, and improves the chances of high performing students going on to study science at university.

Other highlights for me included the steering through of the proposal to establish Flinders University Victoria Square. It has become a launching pad enabling us to tap into new student markets in law, public policy and business. In addition, the program of public events has significantly enhanced our engagement with the broader community. Two Faculties are taking real strategic advantage of Victoria Square.

Another is the Flinders University Art Museum and City Gallery. In 2011 it attracted 22,000 people to exhibitions and events. The largest component – 16,400 – came to the City Gallery on North Terrace; 5,000 to the touring exhibition, Gooch’s Utopia; and 620 to the Art Museum on campus. Events invariably receive positive press coverage: Over the last 12 months (June 2011 to May 2012) there were 81 printed and 21 online mentions of the Gallery, and that included 17 in The Australian and 14 in The Advertiser.

So what are the challenges and opportunities going forward?

First, Federal funding for the SKTP Office ends in mid-year. Its activities will be continued, but on a modest scale, and without resources to invest in further KEGs projects. It must also ensure that CE activities are efficiently and effectively connected to our teaching and research.

Second, FUVS (supported by the City Gallery) provides a platform for Flinders to have a much stronger impact on the life of the city. Our benchmark should be the Hawke Centre; we have much to do.

Third, the prospective integration of the knowledge orientated precinct connecting Flinders, the FMC, Science Park and Tonsley will accelerate following the release of the Tonsley Masterplan and the start of new building. Unfortunately, the fate of the Darlington Interchange Plan remains uncertain, though another study was recently commissioned.

Flinders presence at Tonsley will be the subject of a special Council meeting in late June. Regardless, our challenge is to ensure that we remain the university partner of choice for all the developments within the precinct, as the creation of an expanded knowledge hub can be of significant long-term benefit.


Marshall McLuhan once said: ‘The reason that universities are so full of knowledge is that students come with so much and leave with so little’.

My perspective could not be more different.

At no time in history have expectations been so great about the role universities can, and should, play in building economies, improving human well-being, and ensuring we pass on to future generations a planet capable of supporting diverse human and natural communities.

Flinders aspires to provide students with a high quality, transformative education, and to be a source of new knowledge, understanding and innovation.

My role has been to ensure that we are strategically and profitably connected internationally, as well as socially responsible by being connected with local city and regional communities.

Some believe these two portfolio areas are in opposition. As Peter Scott (2012) has pointed out, it is not uncommon for elite European universities (and the Group of Eight in Australia) to all but abandon the local social responsibilities they once had and focus on global ambitions under the guise of academic excellence.

I don’t agree with this perspective: quite the contrary. Flinders depends on both its global and local partnerships. It is important to remember that these are exchanges, not one-way flows. Universities don’t have a monopoly on transformative experiences, nor on knowledge creation. Ultimately our effectiveness and success as a university in meeting society’s high expectations depends on how seamlessly we integrate our international and local community aspirations with our core teaching and research.


Thanks to Abba, whose inspirational Golden Greatest Hits were on shuffle as I wrote much of this presentation on a QF11 flight from Sydney to LA. Thanks also to China Forbes (no connection) whose music I also listened to and which I didn’t enjoy all that much but I persevered with because I was absolutely amazed there was a group named China Forbes. 


Hadgraft, Roger 2012 ‘Curriculum reform in the age of Google’ Campus Review, 3 April, p 3.

Olsen, Alan 2012 ‘Education as an export for Australia’, IEAA, Melbourne.

Scott, Peter 2012 ‘Internationalisation and inclusion – principles in conflict?’ University World News, Issue 224, 3 June 2012.