The Interview Australia
University of Southern Queensland
Deputy Academic Registrar and Director of Student Administration

Belinda Reimers

It’s easy for universities to draw up inclusive policies and practices, but it’s a far more challenging prospect to implement them in reality. But by leading from the front, leaders can set a positive example which will filter through all levels of an organisation. This understanding is at the heart of the work done by Belinda Reimers, Deputy Academic Registrar and Director of Student Administration at the University of Southern Queensland, one of Australia’s leading regional universities.

In today’s conversation, Belinda met with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss topics including the transition from military life to a career in higher education, the importance of creating a culture of inclusion and belonging, and the power of building partnerships with students.

Belinda's Journey

Luke: Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and your current institution. 

I’m the Deputy Academic Registrar and Director of Student Administration at the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ). I’ve been here for ten years, and in that time, I’ve worked in research management, data analysis, faculty work, and central administration. Prior to my career in tertiary education, I was in the army for sixteen years, and I also worked in the Department of Defence in communications intelligence. So, the transition to education was a big change for me. UniSQ is a medium-sized regional university with three campuses in Queensland. We have a highly diverse student population, and the majority of our students are hybrid or remote. Around 10% of our students are international, mostly from India, Nepal, and South America. For the size of our institution, we have a large portfolio of offerings, but our most popular programs are nursing, education, and engineering.

Luke: After leaving the military, what drew you to pursue a career in higher education?

The thing I loved most about being in the military was the sense of service. I could always see my work through the lens of how it helped others. But after sixteen years, my life began to change: I had two small children, and I was deployed to Iraq for seven months. My daughter was about to start school, and I decided I wanted to stay closer to home to provide more stability for my family. So, I applied for a job at a university working in data analytics research, which was a good fit for my intelligence background. I loved working in research, but I really found my place when I came into the teaching side of education. It provided me with that same sense of service: every day, I can make a difference in somebody’s life. There’s nothing better for me. 

Luke: Your institution has students from a range of different backgrounds. What’s the best approach to building a culture of inclusion and belonging to make everyone feel welcome?

My team are the first people students talk to during applications and admissions, and we’re there to provide support all the way to graduation. Students might spend most of their team learning, but we are there through some of the most critical points of their journey. I try to tell my team that we are responsible for helping students feel safe and confident. We need to notice when things aren’t going right, or when someone needs extra support. Our goal is to create a safe space which is free of judgement to empower students to reach out. Right now, students are under a lot of pressure, but the way in which they overcome those challenges never fails to amaze me. Success looks different for everyone, and we need to embrace that.

Luke: Students are busier than ever, and they often need to balance their studies against work and family responsibilities. How do you get your key messages across to make sure they’re aware of support?

At the moment, a lot of our intervention work is proactive. For example, we do pre-admission wellness checks with our students, making a phone call to make sure they know what support is available. But we know young people don’t always pick up the phone, so we use all the channels at our disposal, from our webpage to SMS messages. As part of our admissions process, students can select which channels are most relevant to them. You can’t just assume people’s preferences: at the end of the day, everyone is different. It’s also important to make sure students have all the information. Instead of choosing the options for them, you need to raise awareness so they can make those decisions for themselves. 

Luke: Safety and harassment are key concerns for many students. What measures have you found most effective for cultivating a safe learning environment?

Recently, we’ve done a lot of work around building partnerships with our students. It’s all about moving past that “us-and-them” mentality. Most of our students aren’t based on campus, so we need to think more carefully about online safety. By partnering with our students, we’re trying to understand their perspectives and what they need to feel safe. We have students from a range of different backgrounds, and each individual has a different idea of what a safe space looks like. So it’s imperative that we share ideas and work together so we can create those spaces for everyone. 

Luke: Higher education is always evolving, yet institutions can be resistant to change. What’s the secret to making people receptive to new ideas and approaches?

Communication is key. Universities no longer have the choice to be static entities. We’re constantly evolving and rebranding ourselves. There’s always change, and that brings a whole host of new challenges and opportunities. For example, this year, we changed our entire academic calendar and enrolment system. It’s been a difficult process, and there’s been a lot of stress, but I’ve been blown away by the way our teams have come together. If you want to build something new, there’ll always be a little bit of discomfort. 

Luke: How has your military background shaped your approach to higher education?

Defence gives you a lot of experience in leadership. It also teaches you to trust in the people around you — your life can depend on them. When I arrived in higher education, I noticed there was something of a fear culture. But over the years, I feel like things have changed. Now, my team knows I have their back, so they are willing to take risks and innovate. 

Luke: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Know your people. Know their strengths, their interests, and the things they need to improve. If you take the time to cultivate those relationships, then that builds trust, and that’s the foundation of any successful organisation. 

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Luke James
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