Erik Lithander: creativity and ambition key to what comes next for the University
16 May 2022
Opinion: Dr Erik Lithander, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Strategic Engagement, reflects on preparing Waipapa Taumata Rau for the challenges of the future.
During the pandemic we have all sought coping mechanisms to deal with the angst and uncertainty affecting us. In my case, an unexpected avenue for escape was buying a second-hand turntable on which to finally start listening to my late parents’ old jazz and classical LP collection which had been gathering dust in cardboard boxes for decades, waiting to be appreciated again.
Lockdown afforded me the opportunity to finally do something about it: immersing myself for 20 minutes per side in the world of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and Béla Bartók (the latter, incidentally, really not my cup of tea). It provided much-needed distraction and temporary escape into a seemingly simpler and less stressful world. (There were also ABBA albums – we’re a Swedish family, after all.)
But, as the pandemic transitions into what we hope will be a more manageable phase, my attention turns from seeking comfort in the past to gearing up for the challenges of the future.
I started my role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Engagement) at the University of Auckland in November 2021. Although much of my focus in the first few months has been directed at contributing to our institutional Covid-19 response, I share with our students and staff a great appetite to think creatively and ambitiously about what comes next for the University and the communities it serves.
The reality is that few countries have had a pandemic experience quite like New Zealand’s, and, arguably, few have the scope for more existential debates about the future character and underlying operating model of the nation post-Covid.
As the pandemic transitions into what we hope will be a more manageable phase, my attention turns from seeking comfort in the past to gearing up for the challenges of the future.
Having spent the past two years experiencing a reality in which we forgo some of the most familiar traits of globalisation – open borders, reliance on international trade, ready access to immigration and emigration and, in the case of universities, the enrolment of large numbers of overseas students – it seems not only appropriate, but also entirely necessary, to do some collective soul-searching about the future.
As part of this process of reflection, there is no doubt that the University of Auckland will test and examine the values, ambitions and objectives articulated in its strategic plan, Taumata Teitei, against the realities of the post-Covid world.
Some of the operational changes that have been normalised by the pandemic will, no doubt, become a permanent feature of our University’s day-to-day activities: the flexibility of hybrid teaching delivery, pragmatic approaches to staff working from home, and a wider range of offerings for international students who may want to access a University of Auckland education without leaving their countries of origin.
Perhaps most importantly, we are critiquing our contribution to the many varied communities that we serve and the broader process of national recovery. We are already planning a new initiative focused on enhancing the impact of our public policy and research outputs in areas of national challenge.
There is no doubt that the University will test and examine the values, ambitions and objectives articulated in its strategic plan, Taumata Teitei, against the realities of the post-Covid world.
We will also start a conversation about how the University’s values and culture resonate with our various constituents. This will ultimately extend to deliberation about how our branding and visual identity could be developed to best reflect the University’s changing nature and the changes we see in our communities.
I look forward to involving our alumni and friends, as well as staff and students, in these conversations and seeking your guidance and support in shaping our collective effort.
Exciting times are ahead for sure, but without question also challenging ones. For my part, I take some comfort from the knowledge that should I need it, I have some crackly Stravinsky on standby to distract me. Maybe you, too, have some old LPs to dust off?