Professor Duncan Bentley is taking over as vice chancellor of Federation University in the midst of a pandemic with students learning remotely, international students stranded overseas, financial pressures and a rapidly changing landscape.
But he believes the challenges of 2020 will ultimately be a positive for the university, for Ballarat and regional universities more broadly.
Professor Bentley starts his new job today, arriving from Swinburne University where he was deputy vice chancellor (academics).
While not hit as hard as some city universities by the absence of international students, Professor Bentley said he was keen to see international students return as quickly as possible and was open to taking part in a quarantine program to get them here.
"Although we do have a reasonable number of international students they are a small minority of our student population - around 30 per cent - but they come from all the diverse countries around the world and add a huge richness to the learning experience and that's what we are missing," he said.
While international student numbers have dropped because of the pandemic, many have started their degrees with Federation University while in their home countries, learning remotely in the same way as local students.
"Because culturally a lot of them want to come for the physical experience a number have dropped off, but we still have a good number starting.
Like the entire economy, the pandemic has impacted the finances of the university.
"Federation University is really fortunate in being in a really strong financial position but having said that we are working very closely with unions and staff to explore concepts of voluntary early retirement or voluntary separation," he said.
"Some people have said they are happy to go and do something else, or retire, and if we can facilitate that it protects the jobs of those who are left. I will do everything in my power to try to preserve the jobs of the people who are here."
He believes the key to forging forward after the pandemic is the relationship between the university and the cities and towns where it has campuses, and the innovations these partnerships can provide.
"The amazing thing about universities is how quickly they can adapt," he said. "When challenges come upon us we rise to that occasion and see the superstars and champions of innovation and change that will be with us forever."
IN OTHER NEWS
"We've got some of the cleverest minds and we need to figure out how we can drive regional economic growth, how we build the growth in the economy around building long term sustainable communities and bringing digital capabilities to the region."
Professor Bentley said there were opportunities in agricultural technology, advanced manufacturing, energy, resources and renewables and partnering with local businesses on research and development opportunities to drive regional sectors forward.
"What often happens is you have a whole range of really good disconnected ideas and my job is to listen, to understand, to hear and suggest ways to bring people together who might be able to accomplish much more together than they can alone."
Did you know you can receive updates straight to your inbox? To make sure you're up-to-date with news from across the region, sign up below.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to the Wimmera Mail-Times, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling the Wimmera's story. We appreciate your support of local journalism.