Professor Merilyn Liddell was appointed to take RMIT Vietnam through that difficult process of transitioning a smaller organisation into a large, sustainable enterprise. Now, in her final days at RMIT Vietnam, we look back at her achievements.
For a university campus, transitioning means expanding the range of offerings and experiences for students and staff, making changes that will set the campus up for the future. President Liddell rose to the challenge.
All staff at RMIT Vietnam have been impacted by the leadership of Professor Liddell, whether they have been here for many years, or for only a few days. Academics from the higher education and English programs, as well as professional staff at all levels of the University, now enjoy an organisational structure that provides opportunities for progression. Vietnamese academics are recognised as having a remuneration package equitable to foreign academics. Vietnamese professional staff have clear career paths to senior management positions. Opportunities to undertake or be involved in research projects are already being utilised within higher education and English. Salary packaging has assisted many, not least those burdened with expensive school fees for their children. And the list goes on.
“Achieving the balance between what the University can afford and what the staff want, need and deserve, has been a major and ongoing challenge throughout my time here,” Professor Liddell confided. “Our only income is from student fees, and I think all our staff appreciate that such revenue is limited, so I have tried very hard to provide for the staff and the growth of the university with such constraints.”
But Professor Liddell is quietly pleased with the outcomes that have been achieved during her tenure. “We had almost no peer-reviewed research publications being produced, and in 2012 we have a healthy and growing community of researchers working on a variety of worthwhile projects. Whilst still very small, it is a sound beginning. I know many more are in the pipeline of development or even simply awaiting publication.”
RMIT Vietnam was established for the most part under the leadership of Mr Michael Mann, who, as an ex-Ambassador to Vietnam was able to access his contacts within the Vietnamese government when needing to talk through the complexities of the legal environment for the first international university in this country. Given her very different background, as an academic and a general practitioner of medicine, liaising with government formed an interesting part of her role.
“I learned the protocols for the very formal manner in which one interacts with government officials in Vietnam, and mostly I followed these. But I also enjoyed introducing some more Australian style of dialogue when needed, to make clear the position of the university. Despite the complexities, I was consistently impressed with the level of support RMIT Vietnam attracts throughout the general and business community and from the government of Vietnam.”
Given her background, it is not surprising that enhancing the student experience was always a priority for Professor Liddell during her time with RMIT Vietnam. She personally oversaw the renegotiation of the services for the medical centre on both SGS and Hanoi campuses, supported the extension of wellbeing for students, and ensured the establishment of a residence centre that provides so much more than just accommodation. From time to time, Professor Liddell has allowed herself to enjoy student life during her time here, having been seen sitting in classrooms with students, attending performances, and even riding (and being thrown off) a mechanical bull at a major student-managed fair.
“Interestingly enough, my frequent travels back and forth between the Saigon South and Hanoi campuses have provided many opportunities to talk to students and alumni – more and more, they approach me at the airport! I love these unexpected interactions, because these students and alumni are so proud of attending RMIT and show such love for their university.”
Whilst Professor Liddell clearly has an obvious fondness for all aspects of RMIT Vietnam, it is the introduction of the Master of Engineering that she considers her proudest achievement.
“Vietnam needs skills in engineering – I think that is clear to everyone – and RMIT has expertise in this field. But Vietnamese students don’t yet recognise Engineering as an elite profession and access to a well-paid career, so it was always going to be a hard sell to introduce this program. We managed it, by proposing the concept and then subsequently negotiating cohorts of scholarships from industry and from Ausaid, an arm of the Australian government. It was quite difficult to achieve, but very rewarding. I have no doubt these graduates will showcase the program and be ambassadors for the further development of professional Engineering in Vietnam.”
And what of the future for RMIT Vietnam? Professor Liddell has demonstrated a visionary approach to her leadership, so we asked her to again look into the future and provide us with her thoughts.
“We have already established an enviable reputation in Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding provinces in the South. Hanoi and the North of the country also recognise us and have a high respect for our University, but would greatly benefit from the establishment of a full campus there, too, in the future. We are leading the world by student numbers, we show leadership through the quality of our graduates, and I expect this leadership and associated reputation to continue. We are here to contribute to Vietnam and the region, and I expect RMIT can and will do more, for many years to come.”
Professor Liddell was President of RMIT Vietnam from July 2009 to September 2012. During this time, RMIT Vietnam has benefited from:
- The development of the Saigon South Campus – including the Recreation and Events Centre, the Residences, and the second Academic Building.
- The move of the Hanoi Campus to top-grade facilities.
- The identification of a potential site for a new Hanoi Campus.
- Re-opening of the Pham Ngoc Thach location.
- The introduction of career paths for higher education academics, English language academics, and professional staff.
- Increased packages of staff benefits.
- Increased and diversified higher education programs.
- Increased and diversified English language programs.
- Stronger and increased links with industry, including increased scholarships and internship opportunities for students.
- Ongoing support from the governments of Vietnam and Australia.
- Successful negotiation through legal complexities regarding work permits for staff.
- Developing the international branch campus to be an exemplar for universities around the world.
Professor Liddell will be sorely missed by her many staff and student fans.
RMIT Vietnam will be lead for the forseeable future by Professor Joyce Kirk. Get to know our new president.