Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs - 7 October 2020

07 Oct 2020

Dear colleagues

It was good to see 21 UNSW researchers and 24 of our research fields recognised as Australia’s best in the recent Research 2020 magazine published by The Australian. Another reminder of the depth of research talent at UNSW. Professor Andrew Martin was named the global leader in the field of Educational Psychology and Counselling and was one of eight Australian researchers listed as being the best in the world in their field. Andrew was also one of four UNSW researchers among the 40 Lifetime Achievers, alongside Professor Louisa Degenhardt (Health and Medical Sciences – Addiction), Professor Jeff (Fengyi) Jin (Humanities, Arts and Literature – Sex and Sexuality), and Professor Andrey Miroschnichenko (Physics and Mathematics – Optics and Photonics). Congratulations to all 21 researchers on this well-deserved recognition and to the many researchers whose work lifted UNSW to the top in 24 fields.

Last week I had the opportunity to address the AFR Higher Education Summit about the outlook for research to 2040. I emphasised the need for additional research funding to protect world leading research across the sector and to ensure that we can assist in Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19 effectively. I described my idea of eight to 12 accredited Translational Research Networks, linking universities, with industry to drive the Discovery – Translation – Application – Commercialisation pathway. Realising the full potential of the excellence in discovery research in Australia will require a shift in culture and mindset, in which R&D is regarded as an important investment, generating opportunities, jobs and economic benefit. Anyone interested can read my AFR talk here.

Workplace change

The consultation process about the UNSW Workplace Change Proposals continues and feedback is welcome until 5pm on Monday, 12 October 2020.

Meanwhile it is a sad time saying farewell to colleagues who are leaving UNSW as part of the voluntary redundancy program. I feel your sense of loss about the departure of friends and workmates who have given great service to the University. Very best wishes for the future to all who are moving on and my thanks to all in the UNSW community for the respect and compassion you are showing at this very challenging time.

Federal Budget 2020-21

Last night, Treasurer Frydenberg handed down the 2020-21 federal budget. The budget involves a massive overall investment to driving economic recovery. The headline from our perspective is the announcement of $1 billion of research funding next year. This is critically important both in helping to sustain our research effort and in signalling a recognition from government of the importance of university research.

I was also pleased to see the additional funding for Women in STEM. The Boosting Female founders Initiative will be expanded, and the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants program and Women in STEM Ambassador initiative will be extended. Other budget points relevant to HE included: the $298.5 million funding for 12,000 additional Commonwealth Supported Places for 2021 announced by Minister Tehan last week; funding for short courses; $5.8 million funding for a scoping study of options to accelerate the translation and commercialisation of non-medical research; $2 billion for the industry R&D Tax Incentive; and the $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative.

Through my membership of the government Research Sustainability Working Group, the UA Board and the Go8 Board, I will continue to emphasise that our universities are a critical partner in Australia’s prosperity as we recover from this recession. I am cautiously optimistic that this allocation of research funding reflects a recognition by government of the value of university research in driving our economic recovery.

Quantum computing developments

Two important developments in quantum computing. Professor Michelle Simmons, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, has been appointed to the Board of the CSIRO. In response to the announcement by federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, Professor Simmons noted the importance to Australia’s future of quality science and our ability to nurture science-based industries – and CSIRO’s pivotal role in this work.

Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC), the technology spin-out that Professor Simmons and UNSW founded in 2017, has appointed internationally renowned quantum physicist Professor John Martinis to accelerate the development of a silicon-based quantum computer. Professor Martinis and his team at Google were the first in the world to demonstrate that quantum computers can outperform classical computers. His decision to join the SQC team at UNSW is a recognition of our world-leading capabilities in this area. Please join me in welcoming Professor Martinis to UNSW.

Eureka Prize nominations

It is pleasing to have seven researchers from UNSW named as finalists across the ‘Research and Innovation’ and ‘Leadership’ categories of this year’s Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. These annual awards acknowledge outstanding discoveries and achievements, reflecting the pioneering spirit of some of our top scientific minds.

Congratulations to Professor Gregory Dore, Professor Maria Kavallaris, Professor Raina MacIntyre, Associate Professor David Heslop, Associate Professor John McGhee, Dr Katherine Moseby and Professor Mike Letnic on being honoured as finalists in what some call ‘The Oscars of Science.’ My best wishes for the prize announcement at the end of November.

Australian Mental Health Prize finalists announced

Twenty-twenty is certainly a year in which the value of mental health and the dedication of its professionals has never been clearer or more critical. The crises of drought, bushfires, floods and COVID-19 have put pressure on the mental health of many Australians. It has become clearer than ever that poor mental health can happen to anyone.

This is the fifth year of the Australian Mental Health Prize, which was established through our School of Psychiatry to recognize Australians who make outstanding contributions to the promotion of mental health or the prevention and treatment of mental illness.

There are seven finalists for 2020: a broad spectrum of Australians who have dedicated their lives to improving the mental health and wellbeing of people and communities across our country. Among the finalists is Scientia Professor Gordon Parker, the founder of the Black Dog Institute. I encourage you to read more about the work of all this year’s finalists. The prize will be announced on 5 November by the Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley.

Health and Wellbeing Month

October is Health and Wellbeing Month at UNSW, reflecting our holistic approach to mental health and workplace safety – both of which have eponymous months in October. UNSW Wellbeing has organised a range of events focusing on mental health, physical health and nutrition, including webinars, online fitness classes, meditation sessions and cooking classes. Do have a look at the event schedule online: all the events are free of charge for staff, but registration is essential. Good health!

UNSW Making app wins CAUDIT plaudit

Also in the realm of safety at work, congratulations to Cybele Wong and Melinda Wimborne, who have received a CAUDIT Innovation in Teaching and Learning Award for their work on the UNSW Making web application. UNSW Making makes it easier to complete safety training to use the heavy equipment and power tools in our Makerspaces, and for that equipment to be shared between Makerspaces. The UNSW Makes app and the well-deserved award demonstrate the power of collaboration to make things better.

UNSW’s submission to the foreign relations legislation inquiry

I wrote in my last newsletter about the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Relations) Bill 2020 that is currently with the Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. UNSW has made a written submission to the Inquiry, outlining our concerns with the proposed legislation. You can read our submission [No. 18] on the parliamentary website. The Committee is due to report by 5 November 2020.

Vale Susan Ryan AO

In the passing of Susan Ryan AO, Australia and the UNSW community have lost one of the great champions of gender equity, human rights and anti-discrimination. Ms Ryan is remembered by many as a trailblazer, a woman of great courage and conviction, as a pioneer and a generous mentor.

At UNSW Ms Ryan is remembered as an important contributor to our community: one of our first Pro-Chancellors, from 1998 until 2011, a long-serving member of Council, and the inaugural chair of the Advisory Council for the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences. In 2012, UNSW was proud to recognise Ms Ryan’s eminent service to the community with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.

I extend my condolences to My Ryan’s family, friends and loved ones. I encourage you to read more about Susan Ryan’s contribution to Australia and to UNSW in this remembrance.

We have not only lost Susan Ryan recently but two other feminist icons in great American jurist, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and iconic Australian singer-songwriter, Helen Reddy. Their deaths have inspired many around the world, particularly women, to express their gratitude for the legacy they have left behind.

Vale Professor Mike Gallagher

I was saddened, too, to hear of the passing of Professor Mike Gallagher over the weekend. Mike was a Professor of Organic Chemistry and a long-serving member of the UNSW Chemistry School, from the 1960s until the early 2000s. Such was Mike’s knowledge and love of the School that he co-authored its 50th anniversary publication to mark UNSW’s half-century in 1999 – tracing the origins of the School of Chemistry to 1879. Professor Gallagher’s loss will be deeply felt. I extend my condolences to his family, friends and loved ones.

In closing, it is encouraging to see the very low number of COVID-19 cases in NSW and the sense of cautious optimism emerging as we head into the warmer months. Although community transmission of COVID-19 is being contained, the risk of the virus will be with us for some time to come – and we must remain vigilant. So please continue to refer to our Safe Return to Campus Guidance and COVID-19 website for information.

Our Division of Equity Diversity & Inclusion has recently produced an Inclusive Practice Guideline for Planning a Safe and Welcoming Return to Campus for Students and Staff Living with Disability. The guideline complements the UNSW Safe Return to Campus Guidance and focuses on the needs of students and staff living with disability. Please refer to the guideline to familiarise yourself with how you can contribute to a safe and welcoming campus.

Finally, you can check the NSW Government website for news and updates related to COVID-19 health alerts. 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