Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs - 9 August 2019

09 Aug 2019
President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs

Along with other Vice-Chancellors I was in Wollongong this week to meet with the Federal Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, and hear about plans for a new performance-based funding (PBF) scheme.  From 2012 to 2017, under the Demand Driven System (DDS) for student funding, universities were able to enrol as many domestic students as satisfied their entry requirements, and to receive both a Commonwealth and student funding contribution. The DDS effectively stopped from 2018 onwards when eligibility for the Commonwealth funding contribution was capped at 2017 levels. The proposed new PBF will distribute funding increases linked to the percentage growth in the 18 to 64-year-old adult population. The level of funding at approximately $80 million in 2020 is small in the context of the roughly $12 billion total of Commonwealth and student funding across the sector each year, but the funds will grow annually until they reach 7.5% of the overall Commonwealth contribution. The PBF will be allocated on the basis of new performance measures including student attrition, participation of students from Indigenous, low socio-economic and rural backgrounds, student satisfaction with teaching and graduate employment.

Most of the questions at the meeting focused on the details of the performance measures and how they would be calculated. It was made clear that the majority of the measures will be contextualised for individual universities against previous performance, so as to reflect the different circumstances across the sector. From the perspective of UNSW, all of the PBF measures align with our existing objectives so to that extent we can welcome this development. However, the PBF scheme does little to address the financial pressure in the sector following the combination of the end of the DDS and troubling reductions in research funding in recent years. Minister Tehan introduced the meeting by emphasising his wish to work with our universities to improve productivity and deliver economic growth in what is likely to be a challenging time for Australia. During questions I took the opportunity to ask the Minister how he would support research in our sector to deliver even greater social and economic benefit. He indicated a willingness to explore options which I will be pursuing.

Freedom of speech on Australian university campuses has been a high-profile topic this year. Next Wednesday, we are holding a forum on this topic with our Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Eileen Baldry, Dean of Law, Scientia Professor George Williams and myself. We will discuss how UNSW can best protect free speech on our campuses in the context of the national debate on this issue, the French Report and the proposed Model Code for universities. The lunchtime event will be held in the Roundhouse in a joint effort from UNSW Thought Leadership, Grand Challenges and the Centre for Ideas. If you’re interested hearing about and discussing this topical subject, you can register here.

Congratulations to the four UNSW researchers who have been named as finalists in the 2019 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. Associate Professor Darren Saunders from the School of Medical Sciences has been recognised for his contributions to making health science more accessible; Professor Stephen MacMahon, Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health, has been recognised for his leadership and expertise in cardiovascular disease research, especially in disadvantaged regions across the Asia-Pacific; Dr David Jacques from the School of Medical Sciences has been recognised alongside a team of researchers from Monash for their interactive biomedical science exhibitions for people with limited or no vision; and Professor Guy Marks from UNSW Medicine has been recognised for his contribution to global efforts to eliminate tuberculosis. It is wonderful to see UNSW expertise, collaboration and leadership recognised in this way. Congratulations to each of our finalists.

Thank you to those who both ran and attended the UNSW Social Media Day last week. From all accounts it was an impressive event, attracting very positive feedback and lots of attention on Twitter. In a relatively short period of time, UNSW has become a stand-out among Australian universities for effective use of social media to generate conversations about research, showcase experiences, and celebrate the successes of our students and staff. The Social Media Day was an opportunity to share this expertise and give both academic and professional staff insights into how they might better use these tools in their work. Congratulations and thank you to Digital Lead for Social Media, Jack Breen, and his team, as well as everyone from DEx involved in delivering this excellent event. If you missed it, you can stream the presentations here.

I was pleased to visit the Faculty of the Built Environment last Wednesday, and talk with staff there about the achievements of the faculty and their ideas for strengthening and consolidating our 2025 Strategy. We discussed a range of topics including how best to incorporate our built environment expertise into campus planning, how to prioritise capital works, how to address space and facilities challenges, and the merits of introducing a possible ‘flexibility week’ as part of UNSW 3+.

I’d like to bring your attention to a couple of staff awards for which nominations are now open. The President’s Awards are an opportunity to celebrate those who ‘light up UNSW’ in their commitment and approach to work, and those who inspire colleagues with their positive attitude and behaviour. We are seeking nominations of people or teams who exemplify our Values in Action – those who embrace diversity, respect others, are strong collaborators, demonstrate excellence in what they do, and drive innovation. You have until 25 August to nominate.

Nominations are also open for the UNSW Awards for Teaching. These awards are one way in which our community celebrates the outstanding educators in our midst – those who possess a passion for teaching, enhancing the student experience, and mentoring through research supervision. You have until 30 September to submit nominations, and you can learn more about how to nominate on the HR website.

This week has marked the start of the Sydney Science Festival, with many talks, tours and events co-presented by UNSW Science and the UNSW Centre for Ideas. There are a range of free and paid events on offer between today and 18 August – I encourage you to browse the program

A date for your diaries: the UNSW 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) finals will be held on 17 September at Leighton Hall. 3MT has PhD students from across the university sell their research in engaging 3-minute pitches, and it has fast become one of our most-loved showcases of PhD student talent. I recommend it as an informative and entertaining afternoon. You can register here.

Finally, a story of impressive student achievement – one of the inaugural 10X Founders student startups, Forcite, recently launched after receiving investment from Uniseed and other investors totalling $2.8 million. We can be proud that the company, which makes high-tech motorcycle helmets for increased safety, had its inception at UNSW.

Best wishes,