Linley Lord at home with the Lion and the Roo
Updated: Jun 13
Pro Vice Chancellor and President, Curtin Singapore
Consumption: Glass of Water
Singapore decided long ago to be politically and socially different from the rest of Asia-Pacific, and it is evident from the traditional gold-dipped orchid flower trinkets at Changi Airport to the innovation hubs and luxury brand outlets.
I first met Linley when she undertook her Doctorate at Curtin, and I completed a Masters. In this 50 Grounds interview, we didn’t speak of Professor Lord’s research about women in leadership. Instead, we took the verbally scenic route of an Australian University in Singapore and touched on some ex-pat tips.
‘I always wanted to work and be connected to the strategic level of the University. When I was elected to the Academic Board at Curtin in Perth eight years ago, I realised the dimension of the job at hand,’ Linley explains.
‘With Deborah Terry as Curtin’s Vice Chancellor, I had great mentoring, support and networking opportunities across the University leadership and stakeholders for the six years I was Chair of the Academic Board.’
‘In 2018, the Singaporean vacancy came up, and I wanted to remain on the strategic side, so I jumped to the offer even though it wasn’t anything I had imagined. The timing was just right.’
In her trademark down-to-earth manner, Linley laughs, ‘I tend to jump in the deep end and then go: ‘gee, I hope I can swim!’
‘Curtin has been in Singapore for over 30 years with a campus since 2008,’ Linley continues with a more serious explanation. ‘I was ready to take the risk because I had the backing of my peers and mentors who could help me with constructive improvement.
‘I’m now in Singapore for just over two years. It’s a fabulous job, and an exciting place to live, even in these times.’
When we had initially scheduled our chat, Linley was busy moving students, staff and curriculum online during the pandemic.
‘We have about 1400 students on the Singapore campus, mainly business and nursing courses. Curtin works with a local partner that runs the campus and student recruitment. ‘40% of Students are domestic, and 60% come from the region wanting a quality Australian degree without wanting to live in Australia for family reasons or personal preference.
‘I realised early on what it means for Curtin to be in a location other than Perth. Singapore is a Fortune 500 business hub with Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. This city-state, and across the region are talking about the sustainable development goals. This opens up opportunities for us here. It is a much quieter conversation in Australia.
‘Singapore’s only natural resource is its people. It’s reclaiming land rather than digging up resources. Despite the difference, Singapore always had a great relationship with Australia. No wonder the ‘Lion and the Kangaroos’ relationship is mostly about a shared strategic mindset.
‘The economic focus here is longer-term. The Government is preparing people for the skills set needed not only in the short terms but also what will be needed in twenty years for example around artificial intelligence and other technologies.’
In another life of mine (don't ask, I never finished that degree) I had researched the possible impact on the Australian economy of what was then labelled ‘the rise of the Creative Class’ and Singapore fully embraced the knowledge economy back then. Still, Australia decided to bank on its resource sector.
‘In comparison, Australia has a mindset about efficient mining, not what the world will look like when the resource sector is no longer a major contributor to the Australian economy,’ Linley continues.
‘The Asian Pacific region is a dynamic space, regardless of the current pandemic. Singapore is this beautiful contradiction of cutting-edge innovation and deeply seated tradition. Disregard the tradition, and you can’t be successful here.'
‘I look after all the academic matters, the programs, student experience and teaching research. With the Universities’ shift to a global outlook and global campus mindset, we place the same emphasis on research here.
‘It’s an exciting challenge for me to build a research identity and focus on the researchers and their topics. ‘
It looks to me that Linley’s open mindset and curiosity is why she can cross the distance and succeed in forging bridges between the two campus cultures so quickly.
‘I am aware that we are using the Australian curriculum, which not always has an international focus, e.g., case studies that are very Australian-centric. Still, we are trying to prepare students for global careers.
‘Course renewal, new course development, industry involvement; these are areas of mutual influence between Curtin Singapore and Curtin Perth.’
Linley is handling the challenge to be the translator between students, faculty, countries, and cultures represented under one united Curtin brand.
‘It wasn’t until I arrived here that I’ve come to have a much deeper respect for people who can move in the course of a sentence through three languages.'
'For most students, English is one of the many languages they speak. Yet I still come across the underlying prejudice in Australia that if you can’t speak English well, then you can’t be very bright,' Linley says.
‘A shorter-term focus and a privileging of Western knowledge in the curriculum is often the Australian approach, whereas here there are many other teaching influences from across the region.
‘Some developing countries try to shift their economies radically. Vietnam, for example, half of their population is young, yet we are teaching cases studies highlighting ageing populations. Rather than having one or the other conversation, we need to combine them.
‘What are employers looking for in a graduate?’ is the key question of any curriculum review, and we have that discussion across the board with industry, students, and the University. The next question is for us: ‘what would make you choose a Curtin graduate?’ to understand what the distinctive element is.
‘Every trimester I meet with the student clubs and engage with them so we can understand any issues and we can also capture the activities and promote them. The Curtin Singapore students have given me feedback that they like the friendly campus structure and that they have a strong sense of belonging to Curtin Singapore, but they don’t necessarily feel that they are part of Curtin Australia. So we’ve worked hard to raise the profile of Singapore back to Perth and vice versa.
‘To connect our students with industry we have implements a thought leader series which gives students the chance to meet with leaders from a variety of industry sectors, and we have now an industry connect program that mentors students during the transition from study to employment.
‘We’ve initiated collaborating with David Russell who is heading up the Curtin Stadium, to look at opportunities for exchange between the sports clubs.'
Linley is weaving an impressive communications net across the University in two nations.
‘We are raising the profile with the annual public ASEAN lecture series since 2018. This year, because it’s the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the lecture will focus on Nursing and Midwifery.
‘My role is about bringing people along as I’m asking them now to being more active in promoting the campus and taking part in the organisation of events like the leadership series, public lecture and relationship building.
Linley’s personal philosophy of embracing the new has brought her to the Singaporean Lion’s den, and there’s no stopping her now. To me, Linley embodies the entrepreneurial and socially conscious spirit that John Curtin, the Universities’ naming patron, inspired.
‘I say yes to every invitation’, she laughs. ‘Because then, I find myself in different conversations and learn more about the context. I could get insular if I weren’t open to the experience.’
‘I subscribe to social Singapore magazines for exhibitions, restaurants and events like The Lights Water Fest or the Light the Night at the Gallery.’
Located just north of the equator, Singapore has a tropical climate and stays hot and humid throughout the year. ‘The Wetlands near the border of Malaysia are still on my sightseeing list.’
Linley has relocated to Singapore with her husband. Her two adult kids remain in Australia. She takes great pleasure in describing her retired husband’s activities as ‘the secret man’s business’. He is a member of an ex-pat group comprising of the ‘male trailing spouses’ who reside in Singapore because of their wife’s careers.
Linley’s top tip for relocating: ‘When you live somewhere new, bring more effort.’
‘I needed to discover friends, the environment and being open to connecting and exploration; to the ‘not knowing’. It’s very easy to fall into the familiar and be comfortable with what you did before. Hence, I just try something new and commit to doing it at least once.’
The Common Ground:
An open mindset can embrace ambiguity and change unbiased and non-threatened
Common ground does not mean a ‘one size fits all’; instead, it enhances the best of both differences
Risk of stalemate outweighs the risk of change
With experience comes a broader set of coping skills.