John Dearn

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It is a great honour to be given Life Membership of HERDSA and it is something that means a great deal to me. I am most grateful to the members of HERDSA for conferring this award on me and the recent presentation at the conference dinner in Darwin was a wonderful occasion and one I very much enjoyed. It has been a real privilege to have been given the opportunity to serve HERDSA both on the Executive and as President and since leaving this role it has been very satisfying to see HERDSA continue to grow in strength and importance. 

 Looking back over my time as President I count as one of my most important achievements getting HERDSA to be taken more seriously at the national level and ensuring HERDSA is represented on key government committees and included in the work of, for example, Universities Australia and AUQA. We should not underestimate the value and importance of the knowledge and experience that an organisation like HERDSA can bring to national debates on critical issues related to higher education and in the current turbulent environment of higher education the voice of HERDSA is needed more than ever. However, engaging with political debates, putting forward position papers and making submissions to government inquiries is time-consuming and difficult for an organisation with limited resources but it is something that HERDSA must continue to do if it wants to be taken seriously in the sector. If we don’t speak up for the values of learning and teaching in higher education, then who will? 

 Another issue that we had to address when I was President, and which continues to be an issue for HERDSA, is the tension between higher education researchers and higher education practitioners within the organisation. My view has always been that one of the distinctive characteristic of HERDSA, unlike some other higher education organisations, is that it brings together both researchers and classroom teachers and indeed this should be seen as a source of great strength. It means that through the journal and conference presentations practitioners are exposed to current research on student learning while at the same time researchers hear about the application of this knowledge in classroom settings. Establishing a strong research base to higher education teaching is essential for the future development of the profession. 

 As is the case for many people, HERDSA has always had a special place in my professional life. HERDSA is a very distinctive community bringing together a diversity of people from many different areas of higher education, united by a common commitment to scholarship and student learning. It is this commitment to the values and importance of higher education that makes HERDSA such a special organisation. I retired from the University of Canberra where I was a Pro Vice-Chancellor at the end of 2008 and have taken up a Visiting Fellowship in the Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods (CEDAM) at the ANU which will give me the opportunity to return to writing and research in higher education and, of course, continuing to contribute to the work of HERDSA.

Reflections by John Dearn