VC Welcome National Outdoor Education Conference - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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VC Welcome National Outdoor Education Conference

29 Mar 2016

29 March 2016

Well, timing is everything – if you’d have turned up at USC this time last year there would have been no outdoor education program on offer – Glyn would have been running around in the background furiously constructing a curriculum, negotiating with Academic Board, and gathering the resources he would need to mount the new combined degree in Education & Recreation and Outdoor Environmental Education.

But 2016 is a different situation altogether. I suspect the School of Education was a little shocked, if not horrified, when the applications for the new program began to roll in (78) and we enrolled (54) students to commence in Week 1 of semester. A great start for a new degree, especially as new programs usually take a couple of years to gain traction on the Coast.

So, why did USC decide to get involved in outdoor education? And, I might add, that there were plenty of discouraging voices out there.

1st – Sustainability has been a founding driver of this university. We partner with a local Council that aims to be the most sustainable LGA in Australia. There’s Noosa and Sandy Straits Biospheres to the north. The Sustainability Research Centre was one of our original research concentrations. The campus is a showcase of sustainable practices and we celebrate our status as a wildlife reserve. We do walk the talk – so outdoor education is a good fit.

2nd – We are located in the most lovely and diverse and stimulating natural environment. As a geographer, it was a no-brainer to realise we had an amazing environment to explore and celebrate with our students. A facet of this jigsaw of land systems is the linkage to our Indigenous cultural heritage. All the major landforms are artefacts of the Dreamtime story lines – from the Glasshouse Mountains. There’s the place names – Mooloolaba, Maroochy, Buderim, Nambour, Caboolture – even Sippy Downs.

3rd – There’s Fraser Island, a World Heritage Site, and Dilli Village. When I arrived here in 2005 USC had recently taken over Dilli under a lease to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Yet another wonderful opportunity, but under-resourced and pretty much unloved by our staff at the time. I set myself the task of turning this around and using Fraser as an ace in growing USC’s international standing and reputation. Like the introduction of our new degree in outdoor education things received a real uplift when we took over the University of Southern Queensland’s Fraser Coast campus on 1 February this year. We now have a conventional teaching base at Hervey Bay and access to Hervey Bay and the Sandy Straits, access to Fraser via Kingfisher Bay Resort and its bayside environments, and a short trip over to the ocean beach and Dilli. Until now, our most common approach to Dilli has been up the ocean beach from Rainbow Beach. Anyway, Fraser is obviously a most wonderful living laboratory for outdoor education.

So, there are many compelling reasons for this University to engage with outdoor education. Both with regard to the discipline itself and through new degrees in areas such as animal ecology and environmental management. As the youngest kid on the Australian university block we have needed to look for niche areas where we won’t be overrun by the big players and where we can leverage off our natural advantages with regard to the physical attributes of our broader region or, for that matter, the nimbleness and entrepreneurial nature of our staff. We seek flagship teaching programs, and likewise research strengths and opportunities that draw international collaborators to grow our research reputation.

Outdoor education has the potential to do that.

That’s the theory and I could have told the same basic story years ago except we hadn’t really started to put it to practice.

However, as Richard Branson in his book The Virgin Way would say, “we were in the right place at the right time”, and stumbled across someone who was passionate about outdoor education and willing to take the risk of backing himself to creating a successful program at an ambitious regional university. And USC took its fair share of risk too by investing in a start-up enterprise that wasn’t in any faculty operational plan, let alone budget. And here we are – off to a good start.

And hopefully this Conference is off to a good start too. I hope it’s a great success and that you enjoy our campus and the broader Sunshine Coast region while you are here.