When it comes to education, placing an emphasis on empathy in leadership provides a powerful tool for navigating the complexities of managing diverse and dynamic student communities.
Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Tim Burdeu, the Associate Director of Student Life at RMIT University in Melbourne, to speak on this further. The discussion offers an in-depth exploration of various facets of student engagement, inclusion, and safety, providing a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic landscape at one of the largest universities globally.
I'm the Associate Director of Student Life at RMIT University in Melbourne. RMIT boasts a global presence with 90,000 students and campuses spread across Melbourne, Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and partnerships in Barcelona, Singapore, and beyond.
Our success in fostering inclusivity stems from key capabilities embedded in our strategy. RMIT's knowledge with action strategy, coupled with an education plan, outlines not only what we teach but also crucial capabilities. We aim to cultivate global, ethical citizenship, adaptability to digital technologies, and connectivity. These principles are seamlessly woven into our co-curricular programs, such as mentoring, ambassadors, and volunteer initiatives. Therefore, students are learning transferable, life-long skills that should set them up for success moving forward, which is a key distinguishable factor at RMIT.
We are part of the University's Australia Charter on Sexual Harm, and our Respect Strategic Plan is a four-year strategy addressing gender-based violence. This comprehensive plan emphasises primary prevention through cultivating a culture of care and respect. Our commitment is reflected in the 2021 student safety survey, revealing the need for significant work in this space. We consider it not just a responsibility but an opportunity for social change and impact. This also affects the ongoing impact our students have in society, which is of the utmost importance.
One of the key things I’ve learned is the role that male-identifying students play in this, and how important it is to bring them into the dialogue and the conversation.
Identifying men as allies is pivotal, and we've successfully initiated dialogues through platforms like men's barbershops. The 2021 student safety survey results were an eye-opener, highlighting the need for collective effort. Our focus on engaging men in the conversation has proven successful, offering a foundation for sustainable change.
Student voice here is something we’re really proud of, and we are always looking for new ways to engage and involve students in the co-creation process, coming up with initiatives that really create lasting change. It’s not about tokenistically inviting students into a meeting, it’s about having them create things alongside us so that they feel their input is really valued.
It's challenging, especially with a large and diverse student base, but it’s about creating shared value across the board. It’s not just about being pleasant to each other, we really want to focus on interdependencies — where helping one another helps us and our careers too.
Our strategy involves targeting leaders within strong student communities. By investing in student development, we empower leaders of clubs, mentor programs, and volunteer initiatives. This "train the trainer" approach ensures scalability and effectiveness in engaging the broader student population.
Creating shared value is crucial. We identify interdependencies within the university, particularly with academic colleges. Collaborating on shared goals ensures alignment and mutual benefit. Using data validation, like our orientation framework, has been a successful model, proving the impact of initiatives and fostering collaboration.
Currently, our primary focus is on retention. We assess whether a student remains enrolled after twelve months, as a key indicator of success. While we are evolving, we aim to delve deeper into longitudinal outcomes, exploring correlations between engagement and future career success. At the moment, the focus is certainly on immediate retention.
The best advice I've received is to lead with empathy. A human-centred approach, focused on understanding and caring, has consistently resulted in high-performing teams. It's not about avoiding accountability but creating an authentic connection that has been particularly crucial during challenges, such as the COVID pandemic.