The future of the Hastings and Manning Valley regions has taken a giant leap forward, with the opening of the new Charles Sturt University campus in Grant Street, Port Macquarie. Dr Muyesser Durur is the new Campus Director, a dynamic leader who’s equally passionate about education and sustainable regional development …
Please tell us a bit about your background …
I was born and raised in Turkey in a region, and indeed in a culture, where education was not something to be taken for granted. As one of the two girls in a large family, I was not considered worthy of education. So at a very young age, I found myself standing at a crossroads – literally. I could take my basket of fruit to my place by the side of the road, where I would sell to passing trade, as my father wished, or I could take the lane to the local school and learn. I chose the path towards education and a path I have chosen again and again throughout my life.
My father was incensed when he discovered my choice. In retrospect, I can understand and appreciate his perspective. We lived in a poor community. Educating a child who was already productive in a menial role didn’t make sense. And yet … how happy am I that I made the choice to learn.
Another crossroads came when I knew I had to leave Turkey if I wanted to engage with the wider world. I went to Germany and was fortunate to find a position with Seimens, which offered excellent learning opportunities. My time in Siemens provided me with a very solid foundation in work ethics and discipline.
The next choice was to come to Australia, and upon migrating here, I found I needed to reinvent myself again. I was a metallurgist, and women weren’t accepted in this field; and in addition, my qualifications weren’t recognised. At this crossroads, I chose to attend evening classes at TAFE in Sydney and then went on to further studies.
I started my work in Higher Education at the University of New England in the ‘90s as the Head of Equity and Diversity and studied part-time for my Masters in Business Administration at the university while I was working.
I moved to the North Coast as the Director of People and Organisational Development and Regional HR Services for the schools and TAFE. During this time, I completed my PhD. With every new period of learning, new opportunities presented themselves.
In 2008, I was approached for a position at La Trobe University in Melbourne. While at La Trobe, I had the opportunity to travel to Harvard University in Boston to study business strategy and competitive sustainability.
When I look back at the narrative of my life, I see myself at so many different crossroads. My choices always lead me towards learning and good choices, I think. However, my education was equally, if not more, the result of good fortune. It was by chance that I met the teacher, all those years ago in Turkey, who basically smuggled me into the classroom without my father knowing. Choice is only possible when opportunities and supportive people are present.
This journey has undoubtedly shaped my perspective and values around education. When people in the Port Macquarie-Hastings/Manning Valley regions stand at a crossroads, quality higher education in areas of interest should be accessible. The immediate benefits for the individual are clear, but I strongly believe a local university campus will have a profoundly beneficial effect on the businesses and cultural life of the region.
As Campus Director, my role is to get the university campus established and to ensure its sustainable growth. We will do this by ensuring that we connect with the region, by engaging with the local communities, with students, businesses and institutions. We hope to help people to recognise the opportunities and take them.
I arrived on 12 February, and I visited the campus first thing the next morning. There were wires and construction everywhere, but the builders, architects and everyone involved were marvellous, and we were open for orientation within 10 days.
What courses are being offered on campus at the moment?
Social work represents the largest group of students, then health and rehabilitation science, creative industries and accounting. The numbers are not large at present, but given the short lead time to become established, this is not surprising. It also allows us to be very student-focused and to get the fundamentals right before we grow any larger.
Are there plans underway to extend this course offering next year?
Yes. Next year we will be offering Allied Health Sciences and Paramedics. The idea is to respond to what the community indicates it wants, and I’ve discovered a lot of interest in these particular fields.
We will always try to respond to community needs based on feedback we receive, to build our capacity to deliver.
How are you obtaining this feedback? Is there a formal process in place to gather this information?
Firstly, I live locally, and I spend a lot of time talking to people. I’m a coffee drinker (laughs), and over a cup of coffee, you can find out many things! People have also been walking onto the campus here and talking to us.
Of course, there are more formal ways of integrating the future of the university with the people who live and work here. We are part of the Hastings Education Skills Forum and similar groups in the Manning and Macleay areas set up to discuss the educational needs of the region.
These groups comprise people from government, local business, local schools and community groups. Similarly, we’re also setting up a Regional Consultative Group for the university. I’ll shortly be calling out for expressions of interest from people who’d like to be part of this group.
What facilities are offered at the Port Macquarie Campus?
Charles Sturt University operates in a variety of modes. There is distance education or on campus study. All students have access to our facilities in Grant Street. Face-to-face students attend lectures here, and together with distance students can access computers and the internet in the Student Commons, connect with all of the libraries at Charles Sturt University, book facilities and link to lectures in real time at the other campuses via videoconferencing.
The facilities as they exist now are fantastic, but I’m sure you have some major plans to extend these?
Our ambition is to develop a substantial university campus complete with student residential services, sporting facilities, social activities and a full range of course offerings. It will be a new hub of intellectual, social and cultural activity. I’m so excited by this dimension of the plan. People will see the physical evidence of the investment being made in the region by Government and CSU. We are in the process of identifying the appropriate location.
How do you plan to roll out the major university developments you mentioned?
The first stage was to get the campus up and running. We’ve achieved that. Between now and 2017, student numbers will grow to around 300 and course offerings will increase. By the middle of this year, we should have obtained land and started construction on a new university campus. By 2030, we aim to have 5,000 students, which will certainly lift the profile of the region and contribute to economic development.
Where can people go to find out more information about the university?
We are still in the process of developing the website for our Port Macquarie campus, but people can visit www.csu.edu.au/4me and click on the Port Macquarie link.
Prospective students can contact Deanne − our Student Central representative. Her number is 6582 9304. Email enquiries to: email@example.com
Thanks Dr Durur.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 77 of Port Macquarie Focus