Professor Drew Nesdale is pro-vice-chancellor (Business) at Griffith University, Gold Coast. His career has included teaching and research positions in psychology across campuses in Britain, Canada, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland. He is a Fellow of AIM.
AIM: How would you describe the path your career has taken from teaching to academia to administration?
Nesdale: I thoroughly enjoyed teaching at university, and research. Administration is a different challenge, and it makes a nice break for a while. But I anticipate that I will go back to being a teacher and a researcher.
AIM: What are the key challenges ahead for education?
Nesdale: Tertiary education faces three principal challenges: being funded, being staffed and being relevant. Funding levels have been systematically cut in the past few years and, if there is no increase, universities face a pretty dismal future. The second challenge is related to the first. We are having increasing difficulty in attracting top-level academics into academia. Relevance is in a sense tied to the money. We desperately need to upgrade our facilities so we can do cutting-edge research.
AIM: How you see the role of universities 20 years from now?
Nesdale: I don’t see it as being much different in its primary focus than it has been for the past thousand years. It will still be about attracting the best and the brightest as students and encouraging their learning, and about trying to do cutting-edge research. However, university education will become much more flexible, more responsive to student needs and wishes. In terms of university academics, I think we will have people who are specialist researchers and specialist teachers, and some who will want to do both.
I think we will continue to move towards looking more like other industries. Universities are looking beyond the traditional sources of employment for their chief executive officers. There will be a much greater emphasis on business human-resource management and goals. We will probably move towards breaking the nexus between teaching and research.
AIM: Does the increasingly commercial focus of universities compromise academic integrity and independence?
Nesdale: Academics do the research and report the results, and in that sense they have integrity. I’ve got little doubt that it undermines independence. Academic freedom to pursue whatever a researcher wants to is lost. You become dependent on particular organisations or industries to provide the funds to do research on topics that are of interest to them. However, there is a case for researchers doing both pure research and applied research.
AIM: How should the universities go about incorporating commercial activities into academic career paths?
Nesdale: The quick answer is to say you cannot have both. It is important for academics to have business experience and knowledge; but it is not possible to just drop people in and out of business and universities and expect that their academic careers are going to continue, or that it won’t cause some disruption to the organisation.
AIM: You have written extensively on racism. Where do you see Australia heading this on issue?
Nesdale: We are probably no better and no worse than a lot of other Western countries. Along with other researchers, I suspect there is a hard core of rednecks in this country. I think there is a large group of others who are “hidden” racists who probably know it is not the right thing to do and would never show it publicly.
AIM: Is multiculturalism an issue for managers today?
Nesdale: Increasingly, yes. Research is being done in business organisations on how to build upon the diversity in our organisations. If you are going to have an organisation work to the best of its capacity, you have to draw on the abilities and experience of all the people who work for you.
AIM: What are your views on immigration?
Nesdale: To the best of my knowledge, the economic studies that have been done suggest that immigration is economically positive for a country. I think it is also a positive culturally and socially for a country.
“The biggest challenge since demutualisation is making sure we keep growing the business.”