Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs

01 Jun 2018
Professor Ian Jacobs

Dear colleagues          

Last Friday, I was pleased to be part of UNSW’s flag-raising ceremony marking Sorry Day and the beginning of National Reconciliation Week. The gathering heard powerful speeches from Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, Professor Megan Davis; UNSW Law Aboriginal HDR Fellow, Gemma McKinnon; and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Inclusion and Diversity, Professor Eileen Baldry. I was moved by the passion and eloquence of the speeches documenting the injustices that too many First Australians still face, made all the more compelling by having the original Uluru Statement on display next to the speakers. The Indigenous strategy Professor Davis is preparing will guide us as we work to ensure that more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people see UNSW as a supportive and inclusive place to study or build their careers.

On the topic of inclusion, UNSW’s Disability Inclusion Action Plan has now been finalised and will be launched this coming Tuesday by Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Alastair McEwin. I am also able to report that UNSW will be conducting a five-year university-wide study to look at how our various diversity initiatives foster a climate for inclusion. I hope many colleagues across UNSW will get involved.

We had some good news last week about our working environment. Randstad’s Employer Brand Research Report ranked UNSW as the only university in the top 10 most attractive places to work in Australia. UNSW ranked 7th overall, which is an encouraging vote of confidence. Our ranking in the Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching, released last month, were not so gratifying. UNSW placed in the middle of the table for post-graduate student experience, but remains near the bottom in the undergraduate category. As you will be aware, UNSW is beginning its biggest investment in educational resources and in our teachers, with digital support for courses through the Inspired Learning Initiative, and a refreshed curriculum in preparation for the UNSW3+ calendar beginning in 2019. We are also investing in our people. We have established the Scientia Education Academy that comprises more than 40 of our most influential and inspiring teachers, and 208 staff across UNSW have chosen to move into Education Focussed roles to dedicate themselves to providing an excellent education and experience to our students.

A central outcome of the 2025 Strategy will be an increase in job opportunities at UNSW with overall staffing levels rising by at least 8 per cent by 2025. The establishment of Education Focussed roles will enable our world class teachers to pursue a career model which spans all academic grades. We intend to provide more secure employment opportunities for inspiring teachers than ever before at our university. Recently, UNSW has been in negotiations on new enterprise agreements with employee unions for both academic and professional staff. It will be beneficial to build Education Focussed opportunities over the life of a new agreement, through recruitment which includes pathways to these posts for existing casual staff members. The University is also aiming to address concerns about academic workloads for staff who are Education Focussed. Consistent with our 2025 Strategy, we are also discussing a number of provisions that support gender equity and the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in both the academic and professional staff agreements. Productive bargaining meetings are taking place each week and UNSW remains committed to reaching agreement with the unions as soon as possible. 

Making the case for the key role of universities in social and economic progress was the theme of my address at the 13th annual International Alliance of Research Universities Presidents’ Meeting at Peking University in early May. I led a Go8 delegation to China, which involved a range of meetings with government and university partners in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, including the China Scholarship Council, the Ministry of Education as well as Peking, Shanghai and Xi’an Jiao Tong Universities. In all of our meetings there was agreement between Chinese and Australian representatives about the great importance of higher education links to both countries. I was particularly encouraged by discussions with the Ministry of Education about steps to strengthen the links between the Go8 and leading Chinese universities in a shared education, research and social engagement agenda.

Congratulations to Professor Michelle Simmons who has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for her pioneering work in quantum computing—the highest honour bestowed by the world’s oldest scientific academy and a tremendous achievement for Michelle and for UNSW. We also congratulate the three UNSW scientists elected as Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science. Scientia Professor Richard Bryant has been recognised for his work on psychological responses to trauma; Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla for her work revolutionising recycling science and e-waste; and Scientia Professor Martina Stenzel for her research in polymer chemistry and its application in improving drug-delivery. These accolades highlight yet again the quality of the research done by UNSW, and the high regard with which our researchers are held in the broader research community.

On Monday I attended UNSW’s 2018 Alumni Awards at the Roundhouse, where we honoured some of the most outstanding members of UNSW’s now 300,000-strong alumni community. The 2018 award recipients made up a diverse list, from creative director and feminist, Laura Jordan-Bambach, to urbanist and business leader, Dr Lucy Turnbull AO and NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian. I got a strong sense from the recipients of the importance of their UNSW experience in shaping their careers and inspiring them to make a contribution to society.

A reminder about two events being planned to honour the memory of the late Scientia Professor David Cooper AO, who sadly passed away in March. As director of the Kirby Institute for 30 years, David contributed to every aspect of understanding HIV and the development of an effective treatment for AIDS. To pay tribute to his enormous contribution, there will be a Memorial Service held at the Sydney Town Hall on 14 June, and a Symposium held in his name at the Kensington Campus on 15 June.

Finally, I wanted to let colleagues know that I have recently joined the boards of two organisations. I feel privileged to be a director of The Conversation (TC), which links academic writers, many from UNSW, with professional editors, to bring university knowledge and ideas to a broad audience. It is free to contribute to, free to read, free to republish and is a great Australian success.

I am also excited to have joined the board of Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA). I spent most of my academic and medical career in the UK involved in research and clinical care for women with cancer of the ovary, a disease responsible for over 100,000 deaths worldwide every year. OCA is a charity dedicated to supporting women affected by ovarian cancer, giving them a voice, facilitating research, and raising awareness on a national scale. Joining the board gives me an opportunity to contribute to this effort in Australia and I am proud to support such a worthy cause.

Best wishes to all, Ian