Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs - 26 October 2021

26 Oct 2021
President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs

Dear colleagues

I hope that you found the second of our Wellbeing Days and Recharge Weeks helpful. Thank you to all who observed a quieter week to allow colleagues to catch up and perhaps take some rest and relaxation. It is good to see NSW opening up and since last I wrote, to see campus a little livelier than it has been over the past few months, as the first phase of our Return to Campus roadmap proceeds. I look forward to more of our students and staff being able to return to campus safely as our roadmap progresses.

RNA pilot manufacturing facility for NSW

In an important step for the future of healthcare, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet visited our campus last week to announce a first-of-its-kind RNA pilot manufacturing facility in NSW. The facility will be established through the NSW RNA Bioscience Alliance, in partnership with NSW and ACT universities, and with a $96 million investment by the NSW Government.

While, during COVID-19, many have learnt about RNA for the first time in the context of vaccine development, UNSW RNA Institute Director, Professor Palli Thordarson, a world leader in RNA technologies, has been working in this area for some time. He sees vaccines as but “the tip of the iceberg in terms of a whole range of RNA therapeutics”.

UNSW is home to leading academics in the field of RNA technologies and, through the RNA Bioscience Alliance, we can tackle some of society’s most pressing medical challenges as we emerge from COVID-19. The new facility is intended to accelerate the development and manufacture of RNA therapies, treatments and diagnostics, translating world-class RNA research into a viable commercial industry.

The team in the UNSW RNA Institute will collaborate with government, industry and academics at our university partners to accelerate the development of RNA-enabled technologies and advance human health. Here’s a short video of highlights from Thursday’s announcement.

Registrations are open for UNSW-wide Education Festival

In celebration of the excellent educators and educational practice at UNSW, our first university-wide Education Festival will take place from 23–27 November. This will be an opportunity to share insights and experience, especially in light of the educational ground that has been broken in the past year and a half.

Anyone at UNSW with an interest in education is welcome to attend the festival, which will bring together the traditional Learning & Teaching Forum and Faculty Education events. Themes for discussion will be selected and hosted by our Faculties, with each theme providing a launchpad to reflect upon the challenges and inspiration for the future of education. The final day of the festival will feature a celebration of academic achievements. I encourage you to find out more about the UNSW Education Festival program. Registration details are also available via that link.

2021 Hal Wootten Lecture – a legacy of Living Greatly in the Law

This year has been a remarkable one for UNSW Law & Justice, celebrating its 50th anniversary in the same year that the Faculty’s founder, Emeritus Professor Hal Wootten AC QC, passed away at nearly 99 years of age. This made the 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture – which was given by international human rights lawyer and barrister Jennifer Robinson at Prof. Wootten’s invitation – more poignant. Ms Robinson’s lecture, ‘Living Greatly in the Law: Law and Progressive Social Change’, honoured his legacy – including the essay ‘Living Greatly in the Law’, in which Hal outlined the foundational values of our Law & Justice Faculty.

You can read more about this year’s lecture in this week’s edition, as well as the Hal Wootten 50th  Anniversary Scholarship, which will support students experiencing adversity or disadvantage to undertake a degree with UNSW Law & Justice.

Farewell Professor Helen Lochhead

We recently farewelled now-Emeritus Professor Helen Lochhead, Pro Vice-Chancellor Precincts, from UNSW Sydney.

Helen joined UNSW in 2016 as Dean of the Faculty of Built Environment (BE). As Dean, Helen was instrumental in integrating teaching, research and professional practice in the Faculty, drawing on her strong professional career and significant teaching and research experience at top Australian and international universities.

In a career that has focused on the inception, planning, design and delivery of complex multidisciplinary projects and public works, Helen has made many valuable contributions to her discipline, to our students and to our University. While Dean of UNSW BE, Helen achieved gender parity in her leadership team, worked tirelessly to improve the representation and careers of women in the profession, and pursued opportunities to enrich industry engagement and the value of architectural education.

We are grateful for the work Helen has done over the past year as PVC Precincts, to which she was appointed in November 2020. Helen’s astute advice and depth of experience, including as a former Deputy NSW Government Architect, have been invaluable in progressing marquee projects including the ambitious Randwick Health & Innovation Precinct that has incredible potential to improve health outcomes for people in our local community and around the world.

UNSW has been privileged to benefit from Helen’s extensive research, teaching and continuous professional engagement over the past six years. In recognition of Helen’s outstanding contribution to our University, UNSW has conferred upon her the title of Emeritus Professor.

Very best wishes to Helen well in her future endeavours.

Professor Boris Martinac’s Nobel contribution

When the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded recently to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, the Scientific Background briefing released alongside the award also highlighted the research of UNSW Professor Boris Martinac. The briefing noted that the joint winners of this year’s prize made their discoveries about how we sense temperature and touch by building on research dating back 40 years, while also emphasising that “the existence of mechanosensitive channels was not firmly established until the late 1980s when Ching Kung and Boris Martinac identified and characterized such channels in Escherichia coli”. We are fortunate that a researcher of Boris’ calibre chose to join the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in 2009 and continue his stellar career here in Sydney. Heartiest congratulations to Boris for this recognition of his pioneering work.

Finalists for the 2021 Australian Mental Health Prize

Among the great diversity of work being conducted by the six finalists in the 2021 Australian Mental Health Prize is one priceless mark of character and humanity that draws them together: compassion. In this, the sixth year of the prize that the UNSW School of Psychiatry established in 2016, the finalists are recognised for outstanding contributions to the promotion of mental health, or the prevention and treatment of mental illness. Their dedication and expertise have been invaluable in the face of the immense challenges to Australians’ mental health in the past few years.

This year’s winner of the Australian Mental Health Prize will be announced by David Coleman, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, at an online ceremony on 17 November 2021. My best wishes to all this year’s finalists.

UNSW Active Women Strategy a finalist for international Gender Equality Award

My congratulations to all involved in implementing the UNSW Active Women Strategy, which is a finalist in the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Gender Equality Awards, alongside trailblazing programs from around the world. These awards recognise significant efforts to advance and achieve gender equality in university sport and it is fitting that our strategy, the first of its kind at an Australian university, has received this impressive nomination. 

The Active Women Strategy is part of UNSW’s commitment to raising equity, diversity and inclusion throughout our University. It aims to address the challenges and opportunities surrounding achieving gender equality in sports with goals under the four pillars of participation, investment and infrastructure, marketing and promotion, and leadership and governance. Well done on international acknowledgement of this important, leading-edge initiative – and best wishes for the award when winners are announced later this month.

Collaboration and creativity for the UNSW Health Translation Hub

By now I do not need to remind you that collaboration and partnership are among my top priorities. So, I am pleased to share news of the new collaboration between Faculty of Arts, Design & Architecture (UNSW ADA), Health Precincts and Estate Management. The collaboration has awarded seed funding, facilitated by the ADA Innovation Hub, to five projects developing creative strategies for the UNSW Health Translation Hub within the Randwick Health & Innovation Precinct. The project teams are each comprised of academic and professional staff, at least one student, and representation from at least two UNSW ADA schools.

The UNSW Health Translation Hub will bring together educational and medical researchers, clinicians, educators, industry partners and public health officials, supporting the translation of research and education into improved patient care. I look forward to finding out more about these creative projects as they progress.

Vale Dr Robert George Robins

I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Dr R.G. ‘Bob’ Robins, an alumnus and former UNSW academic with a long, close association with our University. Dr Robins received his Bachelor and Masters degrees in Chemical Engineering and a PhD in Metallurgy – ‘A study of the process for the production of uranium alloy powders by the calcium reduction of oxides’ – from the New South Wales University of Technology, as UNSW was known until October 1958.

Dr Robins joined UNSW’s School of Chemical Engineering in 1965, prior to which he was a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Metallurgy at Wollongong University College which, in those days, was akin to a campus of UNSW. At the beginning of 1986, Dr Robins commenced as foundation head of UNSW’s Department of Mineral Processing & Extractive Metallurgy in the School of Mines. He stepped down as department head in July 1989, just a few months prior to his retirement in November of that year. In a 1991 report from the School, it was noted that Dr Robins had “maintained a very active collaboration with the Department…to our mutual advantage”.

During a 30-year research career, Dr Robins supervised 27 PhD candidates and many Masters candidates, a great indication of the generosity with which he shared his expertise and insight. In 1998, Dr Robins was awarded the Milton E. Wadsworth Metallurgy Award by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, "For his significant contributions to the understanding of hydrometallurgical processes and their application to the solution of environmental problems".

I offer my deep sympathy to Dr Robins’ family and loved ones.

UNSW graduate outcomes survey

UNSW has performed exceptionally well in recent measures of graduate outcomes, with our outcomes considerably ahead of the national and Go8 averages for full-time employment and median salary.

The results of the Graduate Outcomes Survey and Graduate Outcomes Survey Longitudinal show that:

  • UNSW postgraduates continue to earn the highest salaries nationally, both four to six months and three years after graduation
  • UNSW undergraduate leavers also have the highest rate of full-time employment and highest salaries in the Go8, both four to six months and three years after graduation.

As future students and graduates consider a career in a society and economy emerging from the ravages of the pandemic, it is encouraging to know that UNSW is providing the high-quality education and skills that are in demand and are well remunerated. I share our PVC Education & Student Experience Professor Rorden Wilkinson’s delight at seeing that a degree from UNSW continues to be valued so highly. There is of course much more to a university education than employment and salaries and these results are only one set of indicators, but they do reflect important aspects of the quality of the work of our staff and the impact of a UNSW education.

I’ll conclude today with two reminders. One is that October is Health and Wellbeing Month. There are still several days left in the month, and a lifetime to benefit from some of the available tools and resources! You can visit the Health and Wellbeing Month webpage to find out more. This week is also the third UNSW Diversity Fest, an invitation for our students and staff to participate in activities that embrace the diversity of our community and ignite broader conversations about how we can foster a more inclusive society. Please visit the webpage to see the range of Diversity Fest events being held this week.

And finally, please continue to refer to our COVID-19 Resources website, for information about our Return to Campus roadmap.

Best wishes, stay well