Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs

31 Jan 2018
Professor Ian Jacobs

Dear colleagues,

Welcome to the new academic year and to the first edition of Inside UNSW.

Inside UNSW consolidates multiple University-wide internal newsletters into one fortnightly bulletin. I thank our new communications team for their efforts to develop this central platform which aims to improve our ability to share information about developments across the University, in each faculty, division, school and centre.

For UNSW, last year ended and this year started with some notable developments. We finished 2017 with news of the appointment to the School of Chemistry of UNSW’s first Nobel Prize winner, Sir Fraser Stoddart. Sir Fraser won the 2016 Nobel Prize for his remarkable work on molecular machines.  Hopefully we’ll add more Nobel Laureates to the staff before too long!

We began 2018 with the announcement that UNSW has completed a solar energy agreement which will make the campus carbon neutral. A truly important development in our contribution to addressing climate change. This approach to the use of solar energy is a global first in the university sector and a reflection of our world-leading research over many decades in photovoltaic technology. The joy in completing the agreement was tempered by the great sadness we all felt in losing one of UNSW’s greatest academics, Scientia Professor Stuart Wenham. Stuart was an outstanding scientist, capable of cutting-edge research and the application of that research in partnership with industry. A moving ceremony was held in the Clancy auditorium where the UNSW community joined Stuart’s family and friends to hear inspiring recollections of Stuart’s love of life and his work. A remarkable man who will be badly missed.

January ended with the spectacular news of Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons being named 2018 Australian of the Year. Michelle is a stellar scientist, a great communicator, a wonderful role model for all Australians and a true inspiration for the next generation of women in academia. We can look forward to seeing her on the national and UNSW stage in 2018 as Australian of the Year. Michelle would be the first to emphasise her success is the result of an extraordinary collaborative effort – the outstanding research team at UNSW in CQC2T; numerous professional staff across the University; other researchers across Australia linked through the ARC Centre of Excellence Award; and, most recently, government and industry support for the Silicon Quantum Computing Company. I had the privilege of attending the award ceremony in Canberra with Michelle and her family. None of us knew the outcome in advance so the announcement was an exciting, memorable and joyous moment.

Michelle was joined by an impressive list of UNSW staff and alumni recognised in this year’s Australia Day honours reflecting the breadth of talent at UNSW and the significant impact the UNSW community is making in Australia and globally. The list included two awards of a Companion (AC) of the Order of Australia:

  • Scientia Professor Trevor McDougall, who is based in our School of Mathematics and Statistics. Trevor was recognised for eminent service: to science; education, particularly in the area of ocean thermodynamics; as an academic; and as a researcher. He was also recognised for to furthering the understanding of climate science, and for mentoring young scientists
  • Professor Maree Teesson, who is NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at UNSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. Maree was recognised for eminent service: to medicine, particularly to the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, as a researcher and author; to innovative mental health policy development; to education; and as a role model for young researchers.

On behalf of the UNSW community, congratulations to all who were recognised for their outstanding work. It is richly deserved.

At the start of February we held our annual Gandhi memorial ceremony on the 70th anniversary of his death. The ceremony was held on the library lawn where the statue of Gandhi was honoured and his favourite hymns were sung. It was a moving occasion followed by a suitably eloquent, powerful, inspiring and challenging Gandhi Oration “The Significance of Gandhi in a Post-Truth World” delivered by Shoma Chaudhury. You can listen to a recording of Shoma’s oration.

Finally, I have now commenced my role as Chair of the Group of Eight for 2018. It is a privilege but also a daunting responsibility at this challenging time for the university sector. I hope to encourage a national conversation about what Australia wants from our universities, what universities can do for society, what mix of post-secondary education the nation needs for the future and at what scale. A considered debate will highlight the importance of carefully planning investment in higher education, to deliver social and economic benefits and ensure that Australia remains competitive over future decades. Part of this must be a fuller understanding of the economics of higher education and the ways in which it generates financial returns through research applications, the human capital of educated graduates and international education. Viewed through that lens, we will be able to move away from a narrow focus on the direct cost of tuition fees to a broader understanding of the overall economic costs and return on investment in the sector. Such an approach would provide a basis for a considered, informed investment in the post-secondary education sector in the long term, best interests of Australia.  

I hope you enjoy reading and exploring Inside UNSW – it is full of news, events, celebrations of achievements, and plenty of fresh content about life on campus.

My very best wishes for a successful 2018.