Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs

27 Jun 2018
Ian Jacobs

Dear colleagues

From coveted selfies with Clancy the Lion to a bona fide marriage proposal on the Library Lawn, there have been many special moments on campus during the last two weeks as our new graduates celebrated with their proud families and friends. Equipped with a degree from UNSW, our graduating students enter an exciting new chapter in their lives and careers, and join a 300,000-strong alumni community across the globe. We congratulate them all and wish them well.

I had the pleasure of attending a number of honorary degree conferral ceremonies, which give us an opportunity to highlight the contributions of outstanding members of the UNSW community—including former students, staff, and members of the Emeriti. It was captivating to hear about their achievements and the wisdom with which the honorary degree recipients have navigated their careers and lives.One theme which shone through in many of their reflections was a commitment to serving the greater good, and a deep desire to make their working lives worthwhile, not just for themselves but for the community. Emeritus Professor Ross Griffith, for example, began his career in textiles, with his research on woven fabrics playing a key role in Australia’s then-thriving textile industry. As Australia’s economic landscape changed, Professor Griffith’s career shifted towards the not-for-profit sector, where he spent almost two decades as a director of The Smith Family, where he established a business which recycled unwanted clothing for insulation. Stories like these speak directly to what UNSW stands for, and what is enshrined in the 2025 Strategy: improving and transforming lives through excellence in research, outstanding education and a commitment to advancing a just society.

I know that the vast majority of our staff and students are committed to using the opportunities and resources that we have at UNSW to have a positive impact on society. Sadly, that is not the perception in some sections of the media and politics. I have observed with dismay the dispute about the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation extending into an unjustified broader attack on the value and role of our universities. The Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the ANU have explained their decision on the specifics of the Ramsay Centre proposal. I felt it important in my capacity as Go8 Chair to counter the criticisms of our sector and in particular the suggestion that universities do not deliver a ‘bang for our buck'.

An important element of advancing a just society are our partnerships—within Australia and globally—which help to channel our research and teaching expertise to where they are needed most. One example is UNSW’s relationship with Gulu University in northern Uganda, which sees us working closely on education, health, engineering, agriculture, and rebuilding essential infrastructure in the wake of a devastating civil war. Some of you will have met with the delegation of Gulu students who are currently at UNSW. The specific objective is for them to learn about Australian farming practices but I hope that the visit will be the start of lifelong links with Australia. It was exciting to have the chance to meet the students and welcome them to Sydney and to UNSW.

Another event I had the pleasure of attending recently was the Arc Annual Dinner at the Roundhouse. Any event run by Arc promises to be lots of fun, and this one, hosted by Arc’s comedian-in-residence, Jeeves Verma, was a standout. The evening was a terrific celebration of Arc and UNSW’s achievements over the past year, and a fantastic showcase of the important work Arc does to make the student experience enjoyable, supportive and safe. It was a great opportunity to pay tribute to Arc’s student volunteers, as well as the superb leadership of outgoing Arc Chair, Edward Bartolo. The evening left me proud of the close and productive relationship that UNSW and Arc share, and I very much look forward to continuing to work with incoming Arc Chair, Nadhirah Daud, the SRC President Zack Solomon and their colleagues in our student leadership team.

Another highlight of the past fortnight—though admittedly with slightly fewer laughs—was Professor Nicholas Fisk’s Research Quality Town Hall. Those of you who attended will know what an excellent presentation it was. It was a powerful reminder of how important it is to understand data and metrics and to use them carefully to advance our commitment to continuous improvement. The discussion about the relationship between quality and quantity and achieving the right balance was valuable—the emphasis was on shifting our UNSW profile to higher quality publications. For those of you who couldn’t be there, I’d encourage you to watch the presentation, which will be uploaded to UNSW 2025 Strategy soon.

On the theme of research, I was pleased to see UNSW so well represented among the new projects receiving funding in the latest round of ARC Linkage Grants, with nine projects securing more than $4.3 million in total. This announcement concluded the 2017 round of ARC Linkage Projects and saw UNSW the best performer overall, with 21 projects and just over $9.2 million in total funding. I was also pleased to see that our Enterprise team has released its Making a Difference paper, which records UNSW’s achievements two-and-a-half years on from the publication of our Innovation Statement. The paper provides an excellent summary of progress in some key areas for UNSW, outlining the steps we have taken to attract and nurture skills, embed an innovation culture, create and grow partnerships with industry, and deliver new infrastructure.

Having spent the past few days at the annual meeting of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) in Taipei, I’m now in Shanghai for the opening of the UNSW China Centre and then, this weekend, I travel to Europe to join a delegation of the European Australian Business Council and to meet with PLuS Alliance colleagues. I look forward to updating you on the outcomes of my trip upon my return.

Best wishes,