Professor Helen Bartlett had never been to Ballarat before being offered a position as Vice Chancellor of Federation University.
She was impressed by the city on a visit, so accepted the role and moved to Ballarat with her husband in May 2017.
“I was surprised at how historical the city is, the wonderful buildings, the beautiful layout, and the ease of getting here, but also the things that are going on here like the arts and culture,” she said.
Living in regional Victoria wasn’t a new experience for the university leader.
Professor Bartlett had worked as Pro Vice Chancellor and president at Monash University’s Gippsland campus in Churchill for almost five years.
She said she had a passion for the regions.
“As cities become more and more difficult to live in – it is becoming so popular, so expensive, so congested to live in Melbourne – I think regional towns like Ballarat are going to come into their own,” she said.
“They offer wonderful balance and a better quality of life, while still providing opportunities, some of which people wouldn’t get in the city. Ballarat is really coming into its own and it is nice to be a part of that while leading an organisation that is also moving ahead.
“It is great to be a part of an organisation that has a regional base, that is also national and international.”
Professor Bartlett now lives near Lake Wendouree, but originally grew up in Cheshire in north west England.
She first moved to Australia in 1990 to work as a university lecturer in Perth. As someone who had always had a desire to travel, Professor Bartlett jumped at the opportunity to experience Australia.
She has also worked overseas in Hong Kong and most recently in Malaysia running Monash University’s Kuala Lumpur campus.
Despite a long career in the university sector spanning almost three decades, Professor Bartlett first found her calling in community health.
Experience working as a health visitor in the English countryside sparked an interest in decision making about health services, which lead to a research focus in health policy and gerontology.
Professor Bartlett said she enjoyed her transition to life in Ballarat and felt privileged to lead Federation University during a time of change and development.
“We have quite a challenging policy environment at the moment with Commonwealth Government funding freezes,” she said.
The federal government has announced a freeze on public university funding at 2017 levels for 2018 and 2019.
Professor Bartlett said it was also a constant goal at the university to attract local students.
“When you are working in a regional area… they won’t automatically come to you,” she said.
“You have to make sure you are offering the right courses, that you are appealing to the local population, that you are recognised and respected locally and that you are integrated.”
As the first female Vice Chancellor of Federation University, Professor Bartlett said she was working to increase the number of women in leadership positions at the university.
“It is simply not right that women are such a small proportion of our professors, our executives and senior leaders,” she said.
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