This month Business Minds interviews Sue Crew, the CEO of UNE Partnerships (UNEP), which is the vocational education and training arm of the University of New England (UNE). UNEP has been operating for approximately 32 years and offers qualifications from a Certificate IV to Diploma level.
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been living in Armidale since 2005, having moved from Melbourne. Together with my partner Vernon, we have raised and are still raising my three children. I also have four stepchildren who live all around the world.
Before moving to Armidale, I worked with a number of backbenchers and ministers, predominantly in Federal politics, for more than 10 years.
At UNE, I’ve worked in international education and worked for various Vice-Chancellors in the policy area. Before I left UNE for a 12-month fly-in-fly-out contract in Sydney, I set up the Academic Quality Unit. I’ve now been with UNEP for about 15 months.
How did you shift from politics to education?
I moved to Armidale for family reasons and wasn’t sure what I was going to do initially. I was on the drive up the Hume Highway and received a phone call from the then Deputy Vice-Chancellor, International. He’d heard I was moving to Armidale, and UNE was looking to fill a short-term role for someone with policy skills. It started my involvement and lifelong love affair with tertiary education.
Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to engage in the education sector more broadly, chairing conferences, mentoring and the like, and I’ve found this very rewarding.
How have you found the UNEP role?
What drew me to the role at UNEP was the chance to work in a more corporate setting. It’s been wonderful to be able to engage broadly across this amazing organisation. UNEP works with private industry, peak bodies and has numerous government contracts. We have corporate clients in Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand.
Through my involvement with corporate clients, I’ve learnt so much about so many sectors and am really inspired by the real-world application of education. It’s also great to be back on campus and be part of the UNE community on a day-to-day basis.
What do you find the most challenging thing?
Like most businesses today, the environment in which we operate is constantly changing, with new competitors, in both formal and unaccredited training. Navigating the business through this volatility is our single biggest challenge.
What has been a career highlight for you?
For me, it’s graduation. Each year we do multiple graduations. They differ from the traditional university graduation ceremony, as many of our students are from a big corporate, a government organisation, or a peak body. We hold graduation ceremonies for each cohort.
UNEP staff are in regular contact with students as part of our commitment to individualised support and get to know most students well, so we feel we have been part of the growth achieved by the student, and ultimately their organisation. When it comes down to it, the best part of graduation is the excitement of the student and their family; people are bubbling when they come for the graduation experience.
We like to keep busy at our house. Vernon and I wrote a book called Zits, Tits and Boy’s Bits. It’s an easy-to-digest, dot-pointed book for young boys to help guide them through ages 14 – 16, addressing things they may not want to ask their parents. It’s certainly one of the more offbeat things we’ve done in our time together!
I’m on the O’Connor School Advisory Committee, Parents and Friends Committee, and I’ve recently joined Rotary. I do as much of this kind of thing as possible.
What inspires you?
Personally, I’ve found the experience of bringing up children inspiring and terrifying in equal measure. The terror when you first take out a learner driver and the joy (and fear) as they step out to make their mark in the world.
Professionally, it’s working with people who inspire change and are confident to take on each new initiative. Since starting with UNEP, we have really pushed different delivery and support models. While we’ve made major changes to our business model, the staff and academic directors are incredibly accepting of this and always willing to try something new.
What’s next for UNEP?
While UNEP’s core business is delivering contemporary vocational training developed with industry, we are expanding our short courses offering, to enable people to engage in both lifelong and just-in-time learning to meet their skill needs, without having to enrol in a full diploma. We have recently launched a Fundamentals of Practice Management short course, which is proving very popular with PHNs, GP and Specialist practices.
We also plan on capitalising on our expertise in working with businesses and government, taking their traditional face-to-face materials and turning them into contemporary online resources that they can deliver themselves.
I’ve never been one to set specific life goals. I’m more of a “take the next opportunity” kind of person. It’s made for a great journey so far.
Thank you, Sue.