“Every Student Matters”

In Focus
NAME:Helen Bartlett
COMPANY:University of the Sunshine Coast
POSITION:Vice-Chancellor & President
LOCATION:Sippy Downs, Australia
As a young university, University of the Sunshine Coast isn’t bound by tradition and dated thinking. It’s a competitive advantage that Vice-Chancellor and President Helen Bartlett says makes the university not only a stand-out but also an innovative powerhouse that generates work-ready graduates.

Founded in 1996 on the belief that opportunity is everywhere, University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) is one of Australia’s fastest-growing universities. In the past six years alone, it has grown from one campus at Sippy Downs on the Sunshine Coast to a total of six campuses from North Brisbane to the Fraser Coast. And to keep up the momentum on its successful trajectory, Vice-Chancellor and President Helen Bartlett, who joined USC in August 2020, stresses the importance of staying true to its mission.

“At USC, we look to enrich our regions, connect with our communities and create opportunities for all,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “As we introduce a new strategy and the planning framework to guide USC forward post-pandemic, it’s vital to build firmly on this mission.”

Since USC is a relatively young university it’s not limited by tradition or dated ways of thinking, which has given Helen the freedom to drive change in ways that matter. For instance, since she came on board, she has implemented a number of new initiatives and strategies. These range from flexible teaching and learning approaches that meet evolving student expectations to a refresh of current offerings along with the addition of new and innovative offerings, including short courses. 

We are still new and small which makes us agile enough to navigate challenges and opportunities in a way that is harder for larger and more established universities.

“We are still new and small which makes us agile enough to navigate challenges and opportunities in a way that is harder for larger and more established universities,” she points out. “As such we’ve been able to establish an industry engagement unit to improve the interface with industry and enhance work-integrated learning opportunities for our students. And we’ve also adjusted our teaching and learning approach to ensure that students have a range of contemporary learning modalities that offer the highest-quality experience.”

Even more, USC capitalised on the area’s population growth and the opportunities presented by the pandemic by growing itself, in terms of footprint, size and reputation. As a result, it’s been able to provide greater opportunities for the regional communities it serves. “We have a strong community focus,” Helen says.

“My favourite part of this job has been learning about all of the communities in which we are located, and having the opportunity to shape and lead a university that has such an important local impact. Seeing the impact of a university education on our students is the most satisfying thing.”

At USC, nearly half of its students are the first in their families to attend university. And its latest campus addition at Petrie in North Brisbane, the Moreton Bay campus, provides an exciting opportunity for the university to offer access to higher education in an area that will help even more people reach greater educational milestones.


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“Located in an economic priority zone and an area with a traditionally low level of post-secondary education participation, the Moreton Bay campus is part of a developing innovation ecosystem where industry, local government and the university will partner to deliver social and economic benefits to the region,” she says.

In its short history USC has established a number of research centres, institutes and research concentrations, which when joined with its six schools, has created an “impressive” research platform. “Research and innovation are integral to our strategy,” Helen says. “In the last Excellence in Research Australia ranking exercise, USC received a rating of five, which is above world standards, for 13 of its research fields, including environmental sciences. 

“Since its establishment more than 20 years ago, USC’s Innovation Centre has supported the development of hundreds of small and medium-size enterprises on the Sunshine Coast. And the university is committed to fostering innovation through its continuing engagement with the industry.”

Seeing the impact of a university education on our students is the most satisfying thing.

Long-term partnerships, Helen explains, need to be nurtured with trust and confidence in order to flourish. With Veolia, a company that aims to be the benchmark for ecological transformation, USC has found a true partner. Their relationship began in 2017 when Veolia assisted the university in achieving its sustainability goals at the Sippy Downs campus. In addition to reducing its utility costs by A$100 million over the life of the project, USC is now on track to being carbon neutral by 2025 as well, thanks to the partnership. 

“A long association with Veolia means that we have developed trust and confidence to identify new ways to work and collaborate,” Helen shares. “Building on the success of the sustainability project, we envisage opportunities to further develop work-integrated learning for our students along with new research and development. Having an industry partner co-located on a university campus also provides the proximity that encourages ideas and innovation to flourish.”

Along with a drive to foster innovation, Helen is guided by the quote, “Transformational change is a marathon, not a sprint,” which has inspired her to take small but mighty steps towards lasting change that will positively affect the university and impact its students.

“Every student matters to us, which is why we’re rated one of Australia’s best universities for overall student experience and teaching quality,” she says. “Over the years, I have learned to plan and prepare well, pace the change process, set achievable – but ambitious – targets and bring people along with me, all while retaining the energy and momentum to finish in a strong place.”

Sustainable Solutions

With its commitment to sustainability, USC has: 

  • Four electric car charging stations, which can scale up to 40 stations based on demand.
  • Become the first university in Australia to adopt a total waste streaming system, which includes onsite processing of green/organic waste, helping it divert more than 80 tonnes of waste – nearly 40 per cent – from landfill in 2020.
  • Stopped the sale of single-use plastic water bottles on campus.
  • Translocated 15 hectares of wet and dry heathland habitat, saving it from destruction in one of the world’s largest and most successful habitat translocation projects.
  • Become recognised as the first university in Australia to use recycled water in a public Olympic-size swimming pool.
“USC’s progressive adoption of ecological transformation has revolutionised the race to net zero for Australian universities. Working collaboratively, we’ve pioneered a model that delivers environmental and financial sustainability outcomes, enabling a green recovery and benefiting the wider community.” – Richard Kirkman, CEO and Managing Director, Veolia Australia and New Zealand

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