Around AU – Dr. Frits Pannekoek Speaks to AU Students

?Students are at the Heart of the University?: Dr. Frits Pannekoek Speaks to AU Students

Dr. Frits Pannekoek has served as the president of Athabasca University for the last five years. He was recently kind enough to discuss his role with The Voice.

As AU President, Dr. Pannekoek not only serves as the Chairperson of Academic Council, but is also ?expected to lead a complex environment which values freedom?freedom to learn, freedom of expression more than anything . . . The president is also expected to position the reputation of the university nationally and internationally.?

?The position offers an incredible opportunity to do good,? Dr. Pannekoek says. ?I consider it a privilege.?

Dr. Pannekoek has ?been a tutor for AU for decades, and one of its staunchest supporters and admirers,? he says. ?When I was approached to be president after several rigorous interviews I could hardly refuse. My career to that time involved being Chief of Historical Research for Parks Canada, Prairie Region, then the Director of Historic Sites and Archives for the Province of Alberta, and finally the Director of Information Resources,? responsible for the libraries, archives, press, and museum at the University of Calgary. ?I was also a professor and taught a number of history and museum courses,? Dr. Pannekoek notes.

What is ?exciting? about his position at AU, however, is that every day is different from the one that came before. ?Most days involve meetings either with students, administrators, officials from the Ministry, colleagues from other universities or members of the university community. Generally most meetings focus on policy decisions, on solving ?people issues? and in securing resources for the institution from government and or donors.

?In my role as President of the International Council for Distance Education I also spend at least an hour a week on the phone resolving some interesting international distance education arguments. In the evenings I continue to enjoy tutoring two courses. The students are at the heart of the university and I never want to lose contact,? he says. ?I also still have a few doctoral students at the University of Calgary and look forward as well to working with master’s students at AU. I also manage from time to time to do some research, and publish the occasional article?but that is not as frequent as I would like it to be.?

?My favourite part of the job is convocation. That is where everything comes together. It is often the first time that students and faculty meet in person. It is and remains one of the most emotional days of the year,? Dr. Pannekoek says. ?I don’t think there is a ?least? favourite part of the position. The job can take a high toll on family life. I am very lucky to have had a very supportive family these last years.?

Dr. Pannekoek says that his role is unique in that ?the President of Athabasca doesn’t really have to worry about ?bricks and mortar.?? Instead, he worries about the ?technology and intellectual infrastructure that can help students be effective as learners,? and also spends ?a lot of time fighting for student access to government support programmes,? which he says are generally ?designed for ?bricks and mortar? students.?

And while the current economic climate may create challenges ?in the short term by changes in grants and by our inability to generate the revenues, we need to move forward. Tough choices will have to be made since the current economic environment has also impacted our fundraising.

However, as Alberta emerges from the recession there will be an even greater demand for the thinking skills that AU provides its graduates. We have also been fortunate to receive some key grants that will help us weather the economic storm and emerge with some strengths, particularly in our IT infrastructure.?

Whether seeking public or private support of the university, though, Dr. Pannekoek believes that ?the university’s strength depends on an active student body . . . With student support and when we speak with collective voice we will be heard.?

When asked if there are any achievements of which he is particularly proud, Dr. Pannekoek says that ?there is so much that we have all achieved together?increase in student awards, the beginning of the architecture programme, the foundations of the decanal structure, the raising of over $50 million in funding for buildings and IT. We have also raised the research profile of the university and introduced the first doctoral programmes.?

?The university has endless possibilities. I really see a future in Web 2.0. We can reinvent learning all over again. I believe that AU is the model that will allow the massification of learning throughout the world.

There are currently 150 million post-secondary places in the world. We need about 300 million. Open universities are the solution, and we are truly one of the best of the open universities. Being part of AU is being part of a learning revolution that will reshape the world.?

?I think that as the next generation moves to go to university, that more and more of our children and grandchildren will choose an open, e-learning environment because it offers so much more, is more effective, and can be customized for individual learning styles. It is an exciting time to be at AU,? Dr. Pannekoek says.

To current AU students, Dr. Pannekoek says, ?you are a student at one of the world’s leading open universities. Take advantage of every learning opportunity! Connect with your tutors, with your faculty advisors and with your fellow students. Become involved in your learning! You are the university now as a student and forever as an alumni!?

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