09.07.2020RMIT-Readying our students for life and work is more important than ever

What contribution is your organisation bringing to the economy and society during this COVID-19 pandemic?

Universities have long played exciting and important roles in our changing society. As institutions we inform the minds that shape the future, explore ways to improve life, give voice to great breadth of thought and challenge the status quo.

It was 1887 when RMIT first opened its doors in the heart of Melbourne with the purpose of providing practical education to prepare students for the changing world of work – ‘a skilled hand and a cultivated mind’. That mission remains the same today and we’re responding to the rapidly shifting world of 2020 with the same adaptive spirit.

Our focus is to continue delivering relevant, forward-looking education and research, while supporting the wellbeing of our students, staff and community in as many ways as possible. Simultaneously, we’re working through this crisis and adapting to new and unforeseen challenges.

Creating skills, opportunities, research and innovation that will serve our future needs is crucial to our economic and social recovery. As a university, our commitment is to deploy the whole of our institutional effort to help our students and partners gain skills, knowledge and pathways that will ready them for life and work as things change around us.

When our international students faced into this crisis, RMIT stood shoulder to shoulder for what was right. COVID-19 hasn’t discriminated between those who have strong local support networks and those far from family and home: neither have we.

Working with the City of Melbourne, Victorian Government and community organisations, we expanded our financial hardship support for students affected by the pandemic, wherever they called home. Likewise, our dedicated support teams and our digital education capability, was dialled up for our whole community, just as it should. RMIT also has a direct presence in Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong and Europe, so supporting our teams and students through this time, and building strong future connections between Victoria and other parts of the world, is a major commitment for us.

At RMIT we have some of the smartest and most creative minds in the country. So our people have also been supporting the pandemic frontline from the outset, with expertise ranging from protective apparatus, through to collaboration with world-class experts on the push for a vaccine. Transforming lives and shaping the world for the better drives us today as it always has. That energy and the passion hasn’t skipped a beat.

What areas can government and private sector do to assist you in your contributions post COVID-19?

At RMIT, we were rapidly adapting to new ways of working and teaching as a result of digital disruption before 2020. The world had already been changing faster than ever when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and transformed social, political and economic realities seemingly overnight. The impact across our sector and our own University was instantaneous and dramatic.

We leaned into digital capabilities built over many years to shift at pace to remote operations, so we could teach, learn and further our research while keeping our community safe. However, there are realities we can’t surmount. Our borders remain closed and local sentiment is anxious. This translates to a reduction in our student population from all cohorts and a completely different operating environment. The effects on our finances are real, and will impact on us for years to come.

Across the board, we all need to pay as much attention to the future as to the consuming demands of the present. We are working even more closely with our government, industry and community partners to create work-based learning opportunities, deliver research and innovation geared to recovery, and innovate workforce training and digital skills development.

We are also applying research and academic expertise to wider challenges of recovery and reorientation, from the future of cities to the digital transformation of industry sectors, to the future of our social services.

We need our partners to keep working with us, to support and invest in talented students, researchers and workers, to share your practical expertise and connections and to help advocate the importance of education and research for Melbourne’s future prosperity in our wider community debates.

What do you feel the future holds for Melbourne and your organisation on our Road to Recovery?

Melbourne is an extraordinary city, it’s a bit of magic in a complex world and there’s no better place to build a life. Having lived and worked around the world, returning to Melbourne with my family has underscored for me what a special place our city is. We’re brimming with innovation and intellectual debate, arts and culture, sport and science, historic and contemporary beauty, gardens and beaches. Our inclusive culture and strong social bonds go hand in hand with our commitment to science, technology and innovation: all of this is key to building our future.

Melbourne is a special place and, while we’re going to do it tough along with the rest of the world as the pandemic beats its path, we will overcome, and we will continue to flourish. Likewise for RMIT, we are a university who see and understand ourselves as part of our great city: if you want to experience Melbourne RMIT is a great place to prepare you for life and work in a changing world.

This crisis, like others before, is driving acceleration of trends we knew about, while exposing new questions and gaps about our resilience. We are challenged to address underlying inequalities in our community and risks to our environment. The community recognises that we must embed sustainability more strongly into our future, using innovation and technology to help us adapt, and RMIT is committed to playing our part in this collective future. We stand alongside the great people of Melbourne, as we always have, to address capability gaps and create opportunities for the benefit of all.

Contribution from Martin Bean CBE, Vice-Chancellor and President RMIT University.

Sign up for Committee for Melbourne’s Communiqué

  • *Mandatory fields