Message from President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs - 2 June 2020

02 Jun 2020
UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs

Dear colleagues

Over the weekend I took a look at Inside UNSW Edition 9 from this time last year. It included an article about creating a culture of flexible work at UNSW, another about the formation of UNSW Online, and a piece about students graduating in the newly refurbished Clancy Auditorium. 

That made me reflect on the possibilities and unexpected realities that bookend the past 12 months: working from home, learning and teaching online, and virtual get-togethers of graduates here in Australia and around the world. While it has almost become trite to remark that we are “living in unprecedented times”, it is indisputable – as is the admirable dedication and resilience of our students and staff.

Unfortunately, the other reality of COVID-19 for UNSW is that we are now making some very difficult decisions. I do not underestimate the impact they will have on our students and staff. All of us will experience a degree of disruption and inconvenience over the next few months and it deeply saddens me that to think of the genuine hardship some will face. A profoundly troubling aspect is the inevitability of significant job losses at UNSW this year. There are already areas of the University, my own office included, which are having to say goodbye to close colleagues. In some cases, they are people who have been part of UNSW for many years. It is a painful path that none of us wants to be walking, but one we have no choice but to take if we are to ensure UNSW’s viability through, and after, this pandemic. 

I will do everything that I possibly can to keep the number of job losses at UNSW to a minimum, by reducing non-people expenditure and striving to increase our income as quickly as possible. I hope that our community will understand and accept the inconvenience caused by non-pay savings as a price worth paying to save the jobs of colleagues wherever possible.

The announcement last week that we need to change the way we provide our early childhood facilities is one example of the uncomfortable and unavoidable decisions that have to be made. Even before the pandemic our childcare facilities operated with a $560,000 annual deficit in 2020 and over $600,000 forecast in 2021, in part due to falling demand with 76 of our 289 places unfilled. This has been subsidised from revenue streams that we no longer have available. We cherish the early childhood care at UNSW but cannot in current circumstances justify maintaining large ongoing deficits if other options are available.

I understand the concerns expressed by parents and others about changing the childcare arrangements. I have heard the points about quality of care, and whatever new arrangements emerge we will ensure that they provide high quality childcare for UNSW staff and students. Please also be assured that if Kanga’s House closes, all children will be able to transition to another centre at UNSW over the course of 2020.

In all the decisions and actions we take, I am determined to stay true to our Strategy 2025 commitment to compassion, equity and diversity. We have a robust framework at UNSW for ensuring that the impact of this crisis is fairly shared across our community, which is being reinforced by our COVID-19 Equity Working Group, chaired by Professor Eileen Baldry with representation from across the University. The Group will refine the guidance on equity, diversity and inclusion developed at the start of this crisis and will put in place quantitative metrics to ensure that we stay true to our EDI objectives.

We have also established special funds to support members of our community, both staff and students, who, beyond the inconvenience and disruption all of us will experience, face genuine hardship. Examples of calls on these funds are students who have lost their jobs and face financial hardship; staff who are experiencing a major impact on career prospects; and those who need unexpected help with childcare issues. The COVID-19 Equity Working Group will provide further information about these funding schemes after it meets this week. The need for these funds has already been demonstrated by students who have accessed them and by their response to the support provided.

Taskforce 20/21+ consultation and return to work survey
The work of our Taskforce 20/21+ working groups continues. My thanks to all who shared their ideas. When submissions closed on Friday, we had more than 750 submissions in the four themes of Faculties, Divisions, Horizons and Recovery. These submissions will inform the recommendations of the working groups which will be completed at the end of June.

Over the past few months there have been many innovations in the way we work. I encourage you to complete the staff survey and share your thoughts about how you have found working remotely, and what we might consider as we plan our safe return to campus. The survey closes this coming Friday, 5 June.

Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law 
My warm congratulations to Professor Megan Davis, UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, who was last week awarded the Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law in the UNSW Indigenous Law Centre. This coincides with the third anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. UNSW has been proud to play a part in supporting the journey towards a more just, prosperous future for Australia’s First Nations peoples. As the critical work for constitutional reform and a First Nations voice to Parliament continues, I am grateful to the Balnaves Foundation for this generous gift and for making the Chair possible. This major donation follows on from many years of generous support by the Balnaves family for students at UNSW.

Excellence award for the Emerging Indigenous Executive Leader Program
Congratulations are in order for all involved in the Emerging Indigenous Executive Leader Program at the Australian Graduate School of Management. Last week the program was recognised, on a global scale, by the European Federation of Management Development, with a Silver ‘Excellence in Practice’ Award. The success of EIELP is a fine example of the power of collaboration and co-design. More than 65 Indigenous emerging leaders have completed the program since 2017, almost all progressing their careers, improving their wellbeing and having a positive impact on their organisations.

New Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science
Professor Gary Froyland of our Faculty of Science has been elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, in recognition of his outstanding research in mathematics, including in dynamical systems and optimisation. Congratulations, Gary, on this prestigious honour, placing you among Australia’s most distinguished scientists. 

UNSW Medicine and Garvan Institute welcome genomics leader
A warm welcome to Associate Professor Dr Daniel MacArthur, who has recently returned to Australia to take up his new appointment at the Garvan Institute and UNSW Sydney, in partnership with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Daniel joins our research community from his previous role at the Broad Institute of MIT, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital. Congratulations are due Daniel too, for his leadership on the ‘gnomAD’ package of seven (yes seven – that is not a misprint!), research papers published last week in Nature, Nature Medicine and Nature Communications.

The extraordinary impact of our donors
We are fortunate at UNSW to benefit from the generous philanthropic support of alumni and friends of our University. I encourage you to browse the latest edition of the annual UNSW Donor Impact Magazine, a showcase of the extraordinary work our benefactors made possible in 2019. UNSW received more than 6,600 gifts last year, which is a tremendous reflection of our donor community’s spirit – and for which I am very grateful. 

Cancer treatment device creators win the Peter Farrell Cup
This year was the 20th year of the Peter Farrell Cup, which has now involved more than 3,000 students and 950 teams in the prestigious competition of innovative, entrepreneurial ideas. Congratulations to Team ALTEN, who took the cup, and whose medical device helps doctors provide the best possible healthcare for cancer patients. I applaud all those who completed the 10-week program this year, especially for your inspiring tenacity in tackling the challenges posed by the constraints of these past months.

Having a positive, Green Impact
Many people have observed that a positive by-product of our more modest lives over the past few months is the return of birds to our city neighbourhoods, cleaner skies, and a changing use of neighbourhood recreation spaces. These may inspire you to participate in the Green Impact program, which this year seeks to take 1,000 actions across the UNSW community to make our workspaces more sustainable – including our homes. Every improvement is valuable.

As we begin Term 2, 2020, I reflect on the great respect I have for those who have brought UNSW to where we are today. Over 70 years we have become a globally reputed, nationally revered University in which academic rigour and collegial regard are our stock in trade. Your outstanding efforts and collegial spirit, in the face of great uncertainty, are now a galvanising and defining part of UNSW’s history. Thank you all. The letter Senior Lecturer Dr Murad Jehangir Yusuf Tayebjee wrote to his students as he submitted their Term 1 results encapsulates this spirt and you can read it here.

Please remember if you need support, free, confidential counselling is available through our Employee Assistance Program. The service is also available for immediate family members. Assistance for our students is available via The Nucleus on 02 9385 8500 and our Student Support Advisors.

Take care and stay well.