The University of Canberra will have an international ranking by 2018 and could become one of the country's first universities to share profits with its staff as part of an ambitious five-year plan being announced on Friday by Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker.
The university's Strategic Plan 2013-2018 also seeks to increase enrolments by nearly 50 per cent to 20,000 by the time the university turns 50 in 2018.
The plan, which was endorsed by the UC Council last week, places a heavy emphasis on research, increasing research income and committing the university to break into the international rankings within five years. Professor Parker said the university was heading in the right direction to achieve a spot on the Times Higher Education top 100 ranking of institutions under the age of 50 by the self-imposed deadline.
Research income per academic rose from $27,777 in 2007 to $45,201 in 2011, placing the university 22nd out of 40 institutions in Australia. With publications per academic, it moved to 19th place in 2011, with 1.3 publications, from 28th position in 2010 with 0.98 publications.
"UC is now performing at the median of Australian universities although it's one of the youngest universities in the country," Professor Parker said. He believed the strategy was ambitious but the university could "credibly aim high".
Friday marks the sixth anniversary of Professor Parker's tenure at the university. Three years into his term he signed another five-year contract, which expires in 2015.
The vice-chancellor said his first strategic plan had been about financial consolidation and student growth, and now it was time to set some challenges. "We are in the strongest position in our history. We are posting an underlying operating surplus. We have more students than ever before. Our research performance is on the rise. Now is the time to work on a bold vision for the future.''
While he conceded the higher education sector was more vulnerable to market forces than ever before, and "has probably already had the highest level of funding we are likely to see", he believed that the universities that would thrive were those "with a strong brand, a clear strategy and the foundation of a sound financial position".
Professor Parker inherited a deficit of $17 million from his predecessor, Roger Dean, which had been turned into a true underlying surplus of $1.5 million last year.
The plan called for increasing competitive research grant income, increasing research citations, increasing international research collaboration and improving the university's reputation internationally for research and teaching.
The University of Canberra will continue to focus on its research and teaching strengths in governance, the environment and communication while backing the emerging strengths of public health, education and community development and sport.
The university suffered a setback late last year when federal Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans denied a plan for it to set up a branch campus at Holmesglen TAFE in Melbourne, but Professor Parker said demand was strong and 200 Victorian students were accessing a University of Canberra Melbourne degree through distance education.
The university has been invited to reapply for its preferred Holmesglen model next year and Professor Parker was confident TAFE partnerships would be approved, allowing the university to expand into strategic national markets. He was negotiating with four institutions regarding similar partnerships. "We are not afraid of market forces," he said.
Professor Parker was also looking at ways to share future profits with academics and staff. "I have an aspiration to share the proceeds of our growth with the people who commit their careers to us,'' he said.
He was not sure which profit-sharing mechanism would work best in a university setting, given he was unaware of it happening before.