Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs - 26 July 2019

25 Jul 2019
Professor Ian Jacobs at the Martin Luther King Lecture

We had exciting news last week about progress in the UNSW effort to develop a quantum computer, with the work of Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons and her team featured on the cover of Nature journal. The team at UNSW’s Centre of Excellence in Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) has achieved the first super-fast two-qubit gate between atom qubits in silicon – another milestone in their mission to build an atom-scale quantum computer. Congratulations to the team. You can watch a video explaining their important breakthrough here

Last year, we received a sculpture of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., which now sits on the library lawn along with those of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. To celebrate this gift, the first UNSW Martin Luther King Oration was delivered last week. Renowned American historian and civil rights commentator, Dr Jelani Cobb, gave a nuanced and thoughtful perspective on history and civil rights in the age of Trump. Cobb spoke about a concept he calls ‘a la carte reality’, or the trend of people placing political trust in emotion and feeling as opposed to empirical evidence. Regardless of current issues in the USA and elsewhere, Cobb remains optimistic and shares the faith of Martin Luther King Jr. that the task of creating a fully inclusive society is within humanity’s grasp.

The program for the day started with a choral concert organised by the Australian Human Rights Institute, with memorable performances from our own Australian Human Rights Institute Choir, the UNSW Burgundian Consort, and the visiting Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC). The power with which they communicated their social justice message was enormously moving. It was an especially enjoyable event for me not just as a Vice-Chancellor, but as a Dad, as my oldest son Robbie is Artistic Director with the BCC and was in Sydney with the group. Members of the BCC later teamed with students from Granville South Creative and Performing Arts High School, one of our Aspire schools, to explore a range of human rights issues – from the environment, to healthcare, migration and the rights of Indigenous peoples. I would like to thank Ann Mossop, Emma Thompson-McLeod and Alice Marklew from the Centre for Ideas, Professor Louise Chappell and Steph Manefield from the Australian Human Rights Institute, our choirs, and everyone who contributed.

On Tuesday evening, UNSW hosted a media roundtable and dinner with special guest, The Hon Dr Geoff Lee, Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education in the NSW Government. Following the success of our similar roundtables with the Business Council Australia and Wonkhe in 2018, we convened this event as an opportunity for higher education journalists and leaders to come to campus to talk about current issues in our sector. Minister Lee, who has a great deal of sector knowledge and experience as a former TAFE teacher and Associate Dean (Engagement) of business at WSU, delivered a thoughtful keynote in which he outlined his views on creating better pathways between school and tertiary education.

Along with other members of the Management Board, I had an enjoyable visit this week to the Schools of Accounting and Risk and Actuarial Studies. We heard impressive presentations from Professor Mandy Cheng and Associate Professor Bernard Wong on the achievements of their schools and had a good discussion with staff and senior leaders about challenges and opportunities in their areas. We had a useful discussion about 3+, alignment of the Strategy 2025 pillars, and the University-wide challenge of improving our student experience, noting that these two schools achieve good teacher and course satisfaction levels.

Over August, we will be asking our UNSW undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students studying in Australia to participate in the annual Student Experience Survey (SES), one of the suite of Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) surveys administered by the Social Research Centre on behalf of the Australian Government. This is an important measure by which we track our student experience progress year on year, so I encourage you all to encourage your students to participate in the survey.

You may have seen that UNSW has been listed in the top 100 in the Times Higher Education Global Reputation Ranking 2019. Sitting in the 91-100 band, UNSW was among six Australian universities to receive a ranking this year. The ranking is based on responses from THE’s Academic Reputation Survey, which is completed by more than 11,000 published academics from 135 countries. You can read more about the methodology here.

I was proud to hear the news that our historic Roundhouse has been awarded the Sustainability Award at the prestigious 2019 NSW Architecture Awards. Last year’s upgrades by architectural firm Tonkin Zulaikha Greer had sustainability as a key objective so it is fantastic that the environmental ambition of the project has been rewarded. Well done to Estate Management and everyone involved. You can read more about the Roundhouse’s sustainability features in today’s newsletter.

There have been a number of other fantastic staff achievements over the past couple of weeks. Well done to those behind the eight UNSW projects awarded $3.3 million in the latest round of ARC Linkage funding. These projects will further industry-connected research in critical areas, from wearable devices to rainforest restoration, aero engineering, fire management, coal mine safety, courtroom communications, emergency service personnel stress, and early childhood education. Well done also to our Dean of Built Environment, Professor Helen Lochhead, who has been recognised by the Australian Institute of Architects for her contribution to gender equity in architecture. Two years ago, Professor Lochhead pledged to ensure 50% of leadership roles in the architectural profession would be held by women by 2025. She met this goal within her Faculty’s leadership team and advisory council this year. Congratulations also to Emeritus Professor Chris Rizos, from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who has been voted president-elect of the International Union for Geodesy and Geophysics. The appointment reflects Professor Rizos’ reputation as a leader in the international earth sciences community.

There are lots of student achievements to highlight: congratulations to UNSW Arts/Law student Ganur Maynard, who received the NAIDOC 2019 Apprentice of the Year award at a ceremony in Canberra. Ganur, a Gamilaroi man from Newcastle, has excelled in internships at the Australian Law Reform Commission, Westpac, and at various prestigious firms and chambers. Well done also to the team of engineering students who represented UNSW at the RoboCup at the ICC Sydney a few weeks ago. Their robot soccer team, rUNSWift, came 3rd in the main Champions Cup and 4th in the mixed team comp. And to their fellow engineering students who represented UNSW and Australia at the 2019 Hyperloop Pod Competition in California this week, coming in 7thplace. Lots to be proud of with UNSW ingenuity on display among some of the best engineering talent in the world. Congratulations all.

Finally, mark 23-27 September in your diaries for UNSW’s inaugural Diversity Fest. The week-long program of events will be coordinated by the Division of Equity Diversity and Inclusion, and will include an array of speakers, panels, screenings and workshops designed to get students and staff thinking about ways to foster an ever more inclusive university, and society.

Best wishes,