Inaugural VP Societal Impact, Equity & Engagement and PVC Inclusion

30 Oct 2023
Verity and Bruce

The Hon. Professor Verity Firth AM has been appointed as the inaugural Vice-President Societal Impact, Equity & Engagement at UNSW.

Prof. Firth has more than 20 years’ leadership and engagement experience at the very highest levels of government, universities and the not-for-profit sector in Australia. She is currently Pro Vice-Chancellor Social Justice & Inclusion at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), where she is responsible for maximising UTS’s capacity as a public purpose institution, though both internal leadership and external engagement. 

In addition to her PVC role, Prof. Firth is the inaugural Director of UTS’s Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion. The Centre tracks university-wide performance of its social justice goals through the UTS Social Impact Framework, a first of its kind for the Australian university sector. Under Prof. Firth's leadership, the Centre partners with organisations within and beyond the university to deliver social impact through research, education and practice, acting as a gateway for the university 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. The Centre supports a range of student and staff-focused equity, access and inclusion strategies and activities in areas including widening participation, cultural diversity, disability, and gender and sexual orientation, and is responsible for the university's Equal Opportunity and Diversity Policy. 

Prof. Firth is a leading advocate and thought leader in the sector for access and equity policy and programs, and is a member of the key committees and advisory bodies including the Ministerial Reference Group for the Universities Accord.

Prior to joining UTS, Prof. Firth was Chief Executive of the Public Education Foundation from 2011–2014, leading the foundation's transformation from a fledgling organisation into a major provider of scholarships and support to public education.

Prof. Firth was NSW Minister for Education and Training from 2008–2011, where she focused 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 from 2007–2009, Prof. Firth implemented sector-wide strategies to improve women’s recruitment, development and employment in the NSW public sector. She was the Member for the state seat of Balmain from 2007–2011. Before her parliamentary career, she worked as a lawyer and was Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. 

Prof. Firth commences at UNSW on 5 February 2024.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Inclusion: Professor Bruce Watson

Professor Bruce Watson has been appointed Pro Vice-Chancellor Inclusion. He is an Architect who studied at both UNSW and the University of Sydney. He commenced as a tutor at UNSW in 2000 and as a lecturer in 2001 in the Faculty of Built Environment, designing and convening first year design studio experiences, gaining faculty commendations for his teaching.

In 2014, Prof. Watson designed and implemented the first of the faculty’s alternate entry schemes, broadening the entry reach beyond ATAR alone. The entry scheme now accounts for 20 per cent of new students to the School of Built Environment, inspiring similar schemes across the Faculty of Arts, Design & Architecture.

Prof. Watson’s research centred around design studio education and sustainable futures and affordable housing. It was, however, his passion for education and equitable learning experiences that really motivated and inspired him, leading to him becoming an Education Focussed academic and UNSW Education Focussed champion in 2018. That year, Prof. Watson was invited by the Provost of the Rhode Island School of Design USA, a top-three globally ranked institution, to chair an international panel to review the school’s syllabi and make recommendations. This was an acknowledgment of his educational reputation internationally, and a huge honour. 

From 2014–2016, Prof. Watson chaired the international association of Interior Design and Interior Architecture Educators Association (IDEA), a peak international body that supports the publication of journals and symposia and reviews and ensures design education standards are met. He was a council member of the Australia Council of Deans and Directors of the Creative Arts, (DDCA), a representative body for the creative arts in Australian universities, providing advocacy and to inform, connect and amplify the voices of people and organisations responsible for scholarly and research leadership of the creative arts in higher education.

From 2018–2020, Prof. Watson was Head of School and Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Built Environment at UNSW, stewarding the school and faculty’s vision across 2500 students, seven undergraduate programs and six post-graduate programs. In 2021, he was appointed Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Arts Design & Architecture, a member of the team that established the new faculty. 

Prof. Watson has a rich and multifaceted background, with a breadth of lived experience that has shaped his perspective. The unique obstacles and challenges he has encountered as a gay man have fuelled his commitment to fostering greater equity and inclusion in society. He was a professional sportsperson, attaining Olympic-level coaching at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games, and four times at World Figure Skating Championship events.

This year, Prof. Watson has been acting in the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity Diversity & Inclusion.