The Australian, 14 January 2015
By Julie Hare
WHEN Vicki Thomson arrived at the Group of Eight’s Canberra HQ on Monday morning, she already had her first three weeks mapped out. First stop was a staff meeting to say hello and spell out some basic expectations.
The new executive director of the influential university grouping will not be sticking to the tried and true. Next will be personal visits to the offices of her eight vice-chancellors to hear first hand what they want from the Go8.
The reforming Ms Thomson is hell bent on taking the Go8 into unchartered territory — and just a few hours into her first day she’s already selling the vision.
“I hold the strong view, which I know is shared by the vice-chancellors, that universities should introduce and then lead public debate across a wide range of economic and social issues that define our nation’s future,” she says.
“While universities tend to be very good at engaging in debates that affect them directly, they are often missing from leading issues about broader issues, such as nuclear energy.”
Ms Thomson knows what she’s talking about. With 10 years in an equivalent role with the Australian Technology Network, she has walked the talk in the corridors of power to convince the wary and unconvinced on nuances of higher education both profound and arcane. “I set great store in frank and fearless discussion with stakeholders, including government and opposition and I intend to continue that in my new role,” she says.
An early and vocal advocate of deregulation, Ms Thomson’s position sits more neatly within the Go8 — which has promoted fee deregulation over decades — than it did with the ATN.
And while she’s all over most areas of policy — at times even driving it, as she did the ATN’s push to measure research impact in 2012 — she admits there are areas in which she has a steep learning curve. They include medical research and university relationships with tightly focused medical research institutes — which are undergoing yet another government review
But she also hopes to pursue areas that were elaborated during her tenure at the ATN: among them research impact and how to fund it and business-university engagement. After all, Ms Thomson is a master of the fine art of collaboration.