Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs - 22 April 2020

22 Apr 2020
Professor Ian Jacobs speaking at an event

Dear colleagues

As I am sure is the case with many of you, I am becoming more and more used to meeting through Zoom, Teams and the like. We are fortunate to have technologies like these to help us stay connected professionally and socially. But every time I join a meeting online, or miss the daily bustle of life on campus, or wash my hands for the umpteenth time, I am reminded that we are living through one of the greatest global challenges we have yet faced.

My thanks to all who submitted proposals for funding through our COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Initiative. Because of the unique urgency to respond to the pandemic, submissions were open for only 10 days after the initiative was launched on 27 March, yet over 160 proposals were received, with all faculties represented. Thirteen projects have been identified with high potential in the first round, and it is our hope that this work will be funded by generous donations from our alumni and supporters. I am confident that these research projects can have an impact on the response to COVID-19.

Last Tuesday I asked our staff to consider voluntarily sharing the burden of reducing UNSW’s expenditure so that we can minimise the impact of the financial pressures we are facing, including job losses. The more staff who are able to take up one of the voluntary options, the better our financial position will be. I do not underestimate the gravity of this request and I acknowledge the myriad personal circumstances that will make this a different consideration for every individual in our University.

I will leave no option unexplored in seeking to protect as many jobs at UNSW as possible. Towards the end of April, I will be able to provide an update on our progress and what further steps we may need to take.

Fundraising initiatives

Yesterday, Jon Paparsenos and I wrote to you about UNSW’s philanthropic initiative to address the COVID-19 challenge. The three funds we have established: the UNSW Student Emergency Response Fund, the Staff Benevolent Fund and the Rapid Response Research Fund seek to ease financial stress on members of the UNSW community and contribute to our wider community’s recovery from the pandemic. Our public donor and engagement campaign will be launched this week.

NUW multiversity in Western Sydney

In brighter news, there are some developments to share about our NUW Alliance with Newcastle and Wollongong universities. Next year, the NUW Alliance partners along with Western Sydney University will launch a ‘multiversity’ as part of the western Sydney aerotropolis. The multiversity will commence at a time when stimulating the economy and partnering with industry to produce the highly skilled, job-ready workforce that our society needs will be paramount. I look forward to sharing more ‘nuws’ of the multiversity in coming months.

Educators focussed online

In 2015 when we made the strategic decision to introduce Education Focussed Roles at UNSW, I realised that they would be a key group of our staff but none of us predicted the important role this team of professional, innovative, specialist educators would play in tackling the challenges of teaching online during an unprecedented global health crisis. I am grateful for their leadership in providing an exemplary body of resources that support our focus on providing a quality, connected student learning experience in such extraordinary circumstances.

We have many outstanding teachers at UNSW, and I congratulate Associate Professors Jayashri Ravishankar, Liz Angstmann and Kim Snepvangers on their Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning in the Australian Awards for University Teaching, in 2018 and 2019.

ARC funds two Special Research Initiatives for Antarctica

The Australian Research Council yesterday announced $56m funding for two new Special Research Initiatives for Antarctica.

Professor Emma Johnston is UNSW's institutional lead for the collaborative program ‘Securing Antarctic's Environmental Future’, hosted by Monash University and awarded $36m over seven years. This research will advance our fundamental understanding of Antarctic ecosystems and optimize decision making and environmental management.

Professor Matthew England is UNSW's institutional lead for the new Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, funded under the same scheme at $20m over three years. This Centre, with research partners including the University of Tasmania and ANU, will advance our understanding of and prediction systems for the ice sheets and ice shelves of Antarctica, as well as the climate processes operating in the Southern Ocean.

Antarctica is an extraordinary – and extraordinarily important – ecosystem. Congratulations to our talented academics who are working to secure its future through these research partnerships.

Earth Day turns 50 today

Earth Day was first celebrated on 22 April 1970 and now involves events in over 150 countries to demonstrate support for environmental protection. The scale of the challenge posed by COVID-19 must not allow us to push aside the need for global action to address and mitigate climate change. There are many ways to engage with the 50th annual Earth Day and many ways to be energy smart as we spend more time at home.

At UNSW we have a proud heritage of action on climate change and I know that many of you will celebrate Earth Day. I am also pleased to have seen that UNSW ranks high on a recent Greenpeace list of Australian organisations moving towards 100% renewable energy. I commend all at UNSW who are part of our environmental efforts.

Ageing Futures Institute grants awarded

The UNSW Ageing Futures Institute has awarded seed-funding grants to eight projects with tremendous potential to improve the wellbeing of older people. The selected projects are truly collaborative and interdisciplinary. All our faculties are represented, alongside 24 Institute researchers and their partners from industry, hospitals, care services and other research institutes, both here and abroad. Congratulations to all recipients. I look forward to hearing more as the projects progress throughout the year.

New Australian Human Rights Institute newsletter

While the public health aspect of the pandemic may be top-of-mind, the social, economic and political impacts of COVID-19 are significant, global and concerning. The Australian Human Rights Institute is publishing ‘On Guard’, a weekly newsletter and online portal to shine a light on what appear to be the forgotten dimensions of the pandemic. You can subscribe to ‘On Guard’ on the AHRI’s website.

Elections of staff to the University Council

Nominations for the election of one professional and two academic staff members to the University Council open in the first week of Term 2, on Wednesday, 3 June. The Council is the University’s governing authority, overseeing the University’s performance and academic activities, and approving our mission, strategic direction and budget. Find out more about Council nominations and elections.

Australian Mental Health Prize nominations open soon

On Wednesday, 29 April, nominations will open for the Australian Mental Health Prize 2020, which recognises an Australian who has made a significant contribution to promoting mental health or preventing or treating mental illness. The theme of this year’s online launch event is ‘Dealing with Disaster and Pervasive Threat in the Era of COVID-19’. It is indeed timely that this year’s nominations open as we see the mental health impacts of lives and livelihoods much-altered by the pandemic. The prize will be awarded later this year.

Please do stay connected, look out for each other and be sure to take care of your mental and physical health in these most challenging of times. The health and wellbeing of students and staff is our highest priority. If you need support, please consider the free, confidential counselling service 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.

Your dedication, compassion and collegiality are constants for which I am most grateful.

Take care and stay well.