The Interview Australia
University of Technology Sydney
Director of Future Learners

Tim Maillet

Building a university from nothing to a globally ranked technology leader in a matter of decades is something very few have achieved, particularly whilst aiming to cater for the needs and challenges of a hugely diverse range of students. In this varied conversation,  Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Tim Maillet, Director of Future Learners at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), to discuss his journey into higher education, how UTS has risen to its current standing, and the university’s’s approach to building an inclusive and safe environment for students.

Tim's Journey

Luke: Could we start with an introduction to yourself and your current institution?

Sure, I’m Tim, Director of Future Learners at UTS, located in Sydney and catering to around 45,000 students. We are proudly the number one young university in Australia — that’s universities under the age of 50 – and number nine of young universities in the world. This year is the first year we’ve been ranked in the World’s top 100 Universities, coming 90th according to QS rankings; a proud moment for us at UTS. Our biggest faculties are Engineering, IT, and Business, though we also have strong provisions in our health and creative programmes. UTS is known for being a pretty cool campus, with a heavy entrepreneurial spirit, which is a big draw for our students.

Luke: What drew you to your current role — how did you end up where you are today?

Taking a step back, I started off in the hospitality and tourism industry, working for hotels and adventure tourism companies — I was always drawn to travel-related work. Then, my wife and I moved to Australia back in 2005, which is where she’s from, and I started working in student recruitment for an institution that specialises in hospitality and tourism education. I spent nine years there working my way up the ranks and completing my MBA, before seeing an opportunity with UTS to be Deputy Director of Strategic Marketing — managing all the faculties’ marketing teams. UTS has always had this creative, innovative, and challenger brand in the market, which really attracted me. I was in that role for five years or so, and then had an opportunity to move after a restructure, which is how I ended up in this broader student-facing role, responsible for all things recruitment, admissions and onboarding new students.

Luke: With your students being from a diverse range of backgrounds, how do you embed a sense of inclusion and belonging?

It’s about creating community, and an opportunity for people to connect with their community. Not everyone wants to go to sporting events or parties — you have to look so much broader at what students’ interests are. Twice a year, we have clubs day, and the whole campus comes alive with the many clubs there are at UTS. We’re fortunate in that our campus is quite compact, which gives a focal area where students tend to hang out, meaning that on clubs day, a lot of students are really able to find their group.

Another element is orientation — which we take really seriously from a planning perspective. Most students haven’t spent much time in this part of the city, particularly international students — who have just landed from somewhere else in the world. Our orientation program helps them understand the culture of the country and the city, the norms, what to watch out for, and they hear from the local police regarding safety. A purposeful orientation programme is really material for building a sense of belonging from the get-go.

Luke: With so many things for new students to read and learn about, how do you ensure the key messages get through?

That is a tough one! All teams have the best of intentions when it comes to connecting with students, but the result is that communication does come from a lot of directions, creating a lot of noise for students. What we aim to do is align with faculties, to minimise the channels of communication with students. We have a dedicated Student Services Centre for all students, and another dedicated to international students, which helps provide students with a place they can come to with questions or concerns, too.

Luke: What’s important to get right to fuel collaboration across the institution, say, to achieve the consistent communication approach you mentioned?

The biggest thing is about creating value for the students, informed by research and conversations with students. As soon as you can show you’re creating value, people will come — as the impact on students is clear. Some faculties have been particularly proactive in collaborating with us recently, and it’s evident in the experience their new students now have. Having clarity over which activities around welcome, induction, and transition are centralised and which are done by faculty really helps, too.

Luke: A focus across the sector is the prevention of harassment and promotion of safety. What are some key takeaways from your work on this that other institutions might learn from?

In Australia, there’s a national programme that’s been rolled out called Respect. Now. Always. and there’s a phenomenal woman at UTS who’s been running that for a couple of years. Whilst this isn’t my project, we support where we can. What they’ve focused on doing is breaking down the barriers around talking about consent, as in some cultures there’s no acknowledgement of it at all.

To name a few initiatives, during onboarding and orientation, they set up a big ice cream stand, and when students go get their free ice cream they’ve got a lot of thought-provoking stats and scenarios about sexual health, harassment and consent, with people talking about different issues. All the ice cream names have double entendre, to also get people thinking. They host sessions on campus throughout the year, with people from a whole range of backgrounds and walks of life discussing themes around sexuality, consent, and much more. Counsellors are there to help guide people, too. They’ve done a great job of bringing the conversation to students in the most unintimidating way possible.

Luke: How do you help others at the institution be open to new ideas and to try things out?

For me, it’s about conversation; having some relevant examples, and talking through where we want to go. For example, this year, we’re going to review how we map out and plan our priorities for the year — what we call our focus areas — with faculties. It used to be driven by simple stats, like the number of enrollments or articles in the press. Now, it’s about asking ‘What are we really shooting for?’ — as soon as you convey the case for change to help someone to achieve their new objective, then they’re far more open to that change.

Luke: To finish, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

You are your only limit to where you want to go — if you don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for you.

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Luke James
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