Verity Firth is the Executive Director, Social Justice at UTS and leads the newly established Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion at the University of Technology, Sydney. She is currently spearheading the University’s Social Impact Framework, a first of its kind in the Australian university sector.
The Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion exists to maximize the capacity of UTS to deliver public benefit through catalyzing and rewarding activities with social impact, connecting partners around social justice initiatives, fostering a diverse and inclusive culture at UTS, delivering strategic and collaborative programs across the university and leading and evaluating whole of institution strategies and systems.
The Centre acts as a gateway for UTS to respond to community need, building connections for community groups, not-for-profits and government agencies to access the university’s resources and collaborate on social justice issues, including the Centre’s Social Impact Lab.
The Centre manages the UTS Shopfront Community Program, which has operated for over 20 years supporting community engaged research and student coursework, alongside the SOUL student volunteering program.
The Centre houses the Equity and Diversity Unit of the university. It delivers the university’s Widening Participation Strategy, involving extensive pre-access and aspiration building programs for low SES students, along with educational access schemes and training programs. The Centre supports a range of staff and student focused inclusion strategies an activities in areas including cultural diversity, disability, gender and sexual orientation and is responsible for the university’s Equal Opportunity and Diversity Policy, and operates a grievance handling service for staff and students reporting cases of discrimination and harassment.
Verity Firth has over fifteen years’ experience at the very highest levels of government and the not for profit sector in Australia. Over the last ten years, she has been working in the Australian education sector, first as Minister for Education and Training in New South Wales (2008-2011) and then as the Chief Executive of the Public Education Foundation. As Minister for Education and Training she focussed on equity in education, and how to best address educational disadvantage in low socio economic communities, including rural and remote indigenous communities.
As NSW Minister for Women (2007-2009) Ms Firth implemented sector wide strategies to improve women’s recruitment, development and employment in the NSW public sector. As Chief Executive of the Public Education Foundation (2011-2014), Ms Firth led the Foundation's transformation from a fledgling organisation into a major provider of scholarships and support to public education. She also helped the sector negotiate $5 million in seed funding for a new charity for disadvantaged schools. Ms Firth was the Member for the state seat of Balmain from 2007 - 2011. Before her parliamentary career, Ms Firth worked as a lawyer and was Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney.
Firth, V & Gusheh, M 2019, 'The creation of the UTS Social Impact Framework: A collaborative approach for transformational change', Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 1-22.
The relationship between education and public purpose has been historical and remains fundamental to the core mission of the higher education sector. Alongside the growth of engaged scholarship and practice, increasing and, at times, competing forces work to influence institutional focus and direction. Key amongst these are global university ranking systems, which have begun to shift their gaze beyond traditional notions of academic excellence to also consider impact and engagement. The tension between external and internal drivers for social engagement can fragment institutional focus and undermine community impact. In the face of this challenge, holistic institutional frameworks that systemically and culturally underpin, enable and make inherent engaged scholarship remain scarce. Their absence risks marginalising engaged university practice, teaching and research, thereby limiting the potential impact of universities.
This article aims to address this gap in the literature by examining the question of how universities can create a whole-of-institution approach to their public purpose agenda. Using the University of Technology Sydney as a case, the development of the UTS Social Impact Framework is shared here. We detail the use of Appreciative Inquiry and Theory of Change as underpinning participatory methodologies that have resulted in a systems approach to change, based on institutional strengths. The resulting framework articulates a shared vision and outlines a guiding roadmap encompassing six domains of change, expressed as outcomes, and an additional three preconditions. Woven together, these create a robust image of the systemic and cultural dynamics needed to realise the shared vision of the university, ensuring that contribution to social outcomes remains a core mission of this higher education institution. The adopted approach used in this study can inform the development of contextually relevant frameworks across the sector, with potential to reposi...