Dean Forbes


13 December 2012

Professor Dean Forbes

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International & Communities)

Flinders University

Two lengthy periods of my life have been at Flinders University; first as an undergraduate student, and later as member of staff. The University has had a significant, and transformative, impact on me. Mostly the transformation has been positive (I may have acquired one or two bad habits along the way).

Universities in general, and Flinders in particular, have provided the scaffolding for the defining and enduring influences on my career and, in large part, my life.


As a young undergraduate, university changed my attitude to study. It was a truly transformational experience.

I drifted through my school years at Brighton High and entered the university supported by a Government scholarship, destined to be a teacher. In my mind, though, the scholarship provided bridging funding for a life of surfing.

But that changed in my first year. I enrolled in the B.A. and majored in Politics, History and Geography. Most of what excited me at university was ideas and the people that expressed them. I was interested in politics as a discipline, and in the politics of the day.

In particular, Finders awoke me to the existence of East Asia. The late 1960s, some of you will remember, was a tempestuous time in Indonesia, Vietnam, China and, less spectacularly, Papua New Guinea. It helps explain why I have subsequently spent more time in these four countries than anywhere else, apart from Australia.

The individuals who most influenced me as a student were in the Geography Discipline.

Alaric Maude was my lecturer, Honours supervisor, and role model as an academic. It was Alaric’s network, in the form of David Lea, then Professor of Geography at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), which created the opportunity for my first proper university job at UPNG, a year after graduating.

The late Murray McCaskill was Head of the Discipline when I was a student and also employed me as a Demonstrator during my Honours year. Graeme Hugo, then a Masters student and Tutor in Geography, was developing an interest in, and knowledge of, Southeast Asia, and inspired me to follow a similar path.


I returned to Flinders in 1992. 21 years after leaving. I stayed for another 21 years.

Occasionally the symmetry in our lives is astonishing. In 1968 I was driving along University Drive and slowed as the traffic ahead of me banked up. A postgraduate driving a Volkswagon came flying around the bend and ploughed into the back of my 1960 FB Holden.

On the same day 40 years later (OK, not the same day, but close to) while leaving the Registry car park I slammed into the back of the car ahead of me, and my car suffered so much damage that it was towed away.

I was a little apprehensive about returning to Flinders. After all, quite a few of the academic staff in the Faculty of Social Sciences had taught me as a student, and therefore knew me rather better than I would have liked. Some still had my less than outstanding essay marks in their filing cabinets. Those grades have since been used to inspire students by showing them that mediocre marks are not a barrier to an academic career.

With hindsight, of course, I should not have worried about returning to Flinders. To a person people in the Faculty were highly professional in their dealings with me.

I joined Flinders as the Head of a Discipline, which became a Department, and then morphed into the School of Geography, Population and Environmental Management. Later, of course, it became part of the School of the Environment.

I was delighted on my return to see one of my Campaign for Peace in Vietnam stickers still stuck on the window of the Discipline’s office.

There are a number of people from my time in the Faculty of Social Sciences that I want to acknowledge.

Murray McCaskill, whom I was replacing, had encouraged me to apply for the job, and supported me in getting established. So did Alaric Maude, both of whom I have already mentioned.

Also in the School there was Cecile Cutler, whom I worked closely with on both teaching and research; Clive Forster; Gour Dasvarma; Iain Hay (I claim as my first appointment, though we actually arrived at about the same time); and Andrew Beer (second appointment).

The late Robin Moore, Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Mary Luszcz, who Chaired the Research Committee on which I toiled for many years, both gave me much support.

So too did John Skinner, the PVC Research, and Vice Chancellor John Lovering, who appointed me to the post.


In 1997 I took a big step on my journey to the dark side. Into management, or administration as it’s still often called in universities. I was asked by Ian Chubb to Chair a new International Board.

In the end I spent two and a half frustrating years trying to manage the international program from my office in the School, followed by 13 challenging and stimulating years as Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

Working as a PVC/DVC has been all-consuming, but enormously rewarding. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to concentrate on the international and communities portfolios, even though to some they are peripheral to core university business.

I was fortunate in that my management and academic responsibilities complemented each other. The academics that most impressed me, such as J.K. Galbraith, Peter Hall, Terry McGee, O.H.K. Spate, and Ross Garnaut, moved seamlessly between academia and government. I have tried to do the same, though, I fear, with a much more diluted impact.

My long term-interests included urban and regional policies, and development aid. The international and communities portfolios at Flinders enabled me to build a new focus around how universities and cities intersect, and sometimes collide, in striving to build new knowledge economies.   

A key characteristic of Flinders is the quality of the intangible, supportive environment that Flinders people created when the university began, and have sustained ever since. It is pivotal in explaining Flinders capacity for providing students with a transformative experience.

I want to acknowledge the support of my past and present colleagues on the Top Floor.

Vice-Chancellor Michael Barber gave me the latitude to pursue some of the bigger projects that I thought really important. Included among them are the establishment of the Flinders International Study Centre (FISC), the University’s Victoria Square campus (FUVS), the Tonsley Park initiative, and the creation of the Southern Knowledge Transfer Partnership Office (SKTP).

Ian Chubb, Flinders VC in the 1990s, asked me to take on the international role and took an interest in it, including some memorable trips abroad. Ian’s successor, Anne Edwards, and University Council members, including Leonie Clyne, Ian Yates, and Stephen Hains, and Chancellors Sir Eric Neal and Dierdrie Jordan all took an interest in my international work.

My Fellow DVCs have been great to work with, especially Joan Cooper, Chris Marlin, and Andrew Parkin. I always enjoyed their positive, humorous and occasionally incredulous, outlook on university management.

There are outstanding individuals and teams that have given me direct day-to-day support: Melinda Dodd; Cheryl McDonnell; Kay Anderson; Kim Cassin. Each has been generous and fearless in their support. And from earlier times Maria Stavrinakis, Lyn Perry, and Betty Andrews.

I have worked with some outstanding contributors to Flinders international program. We had our own small event a couple of weeks back. But I will mention Virginia Pattingale; Matt Taverner; Jane Horgan; Chris Franco; Curt Andressen; Arthur van Deth; Allysa Zhou; Nico Voelcker; Paul Worley; Faith Trent; and the late John Wheldrake.

Likewise my colleagues in community engagement have been exceptional: Fiona Salmon, at the Art Museum and City Gallery; Giselle Bueno in Victoria Square; Penny Crocker and her team in the SKTP office; Peter Torjul; Diane Ranck; Sheryl Chandler; and Geoff Sauer.

There are many others outside the University, of course. I would like to make special mention of Bonnie Cothren and Ryoko Tani at the Intensive English Language Institute; Denise von Wald at Education Adelaide; my co-editor and co-author on Planning Asian Cities, Stephen Hamnett; the Adelaide, Marion and Onkaparinga City Councils (Neil McNish, Dominic Pangallo); the State Government, especially DMITRE, the Tonsley Group; Australian Education International in Canberra; Universities Australia and the IRU Group; and the Nankai University people. I could go on, but I won’t.

I began saying what was transformative about my undergraduate years. Second time around I think the greatest impact Flinders has had on me is in coming to understand why universities are, or have the potential to be, pivotal institutions in the modern world, yet how complex and demanding it is for universities to fulfil the increasing expectations heaped upon them. Hence my ongoing interest in cities and universities.

What next? With my partner, Marionne van Katwijk, we will split our time between Adelaide and Shelly Beach, on the NSW Central Coast. I will focus on writing, because it is an addiction, and travel. Four children, four continents; it sums up why that is important.

I will retain my academic affiliation with Flinders. In the second half of 2013 we will re-locate to Washington DC when I take up a position as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, enabling me to combine writing and travel, and see more of a daughter and granddaughter.

Thank you for the support that you and your colleagues have given me over the course of my time here. I am sure that Flinders will continue to grow in stature as a university, and to transform the lives of its students and the people who are associated with it.

Enjoy your summer break.