Graduation celebrations, Federal Budget measures, Mood Disorders Chair appointed and more – 15 May 2024

15 May 2024
Students and their families celebrate graduations outside the Clancy Auditorium

Dear colleagues 

The May Graduation Festival brought a buzz of excitement to campus over the past fortnight. Even the rain didn’t hamper the jubilation of the graduates and their proud loved ones who gathered to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work and commitment (though rain and celebration did completely kill the Library Lawn). We piloted a new post-graduation event with marquees, which from all my interactions with families and graduates seems to have been a huge success. I hope the celebratory gatherings also served to inspire the students sitting exams at the same time, and reassured them that their efforts will one day bear the same sense of achievement and pride.

I had the privilege of addressing graduates at the Science, Engineering and Medicine & Health graduation ceremonies. I highlighted their immense potential to have a positive impact on society as they take their places among UNSW’s outstanding alumni. As always, thank you to the Examinations Team and the Graduations & Prizes Team, and the hundreds of staff and volunteers involved in coordinating these programs. Their success speaks to your dedication to provide the best possible experience for our students right through to graduation and beyond.

Federal Budget

Last night Treasurer Jim Chalmers handed down the 2024-25 Commonwealth Budget. This year’s Budget included a number of announcements relevant to the university sector, and most importantly, confirmed and continued the historic levels of direct support for students. I expect this will be the first round of funding to implement recommendations of the Australian Universities Accord ahead of a comprehensive government response to the Accord. 

There are many welcome positives in this budget, with initiatives from the Accord being funded including greater financial support for students and graduates, with the indexation of HELP debts to be the lesser of Consumer Price Index or Wage Price Index, and funding for payments to students undertaking placements. There is also funding to support the Accord’s equity goals, including $350 million for fee-free preparatory courses, and a commitment to introduce demand-driven, needs-based funding for equity cohorts of students from 1 January 2026. Other Accord recommendations adopted through the Budget include the establishment of an Australian Tertiary Education Commission, and the establishment of a study into racism in the universities sector. 

In addition to Accord initiatives, the government’s Future Made in Australia package will offer opportunities for many of our academics. This package is designed to support emerging industries to manufacture products in sectors relating to sustainability and sovereign capability, and should help turbocharge the translation of our cutting-edge research in relevant areas. 

An area of concern in the Budget, however, is the move towards potential blunt capping of international student numbers at Australian universities. The Treasurer alluded to establishing a new ‘formula’ for international student numbers.

International students have been a welcome part of the Australian tertiary education landscape since the 1950s, contributing experiences and perspectives that advance our collective intellectual, cultural and economic worth. International students enrich the university experience for all, enriching education, research and overall campus life.

International students also make a significant contribution to the Australian economy. Recent analysis by the National Australia Bank found that the return of international students to Australia after COVID contributed more than half of national economic growth over 2023. Furthermore, academics, including UNSW researchers and recent reports all highlight that international students in Australia have limited consequence for overall housing availability or affordability.

When international students graduate, whether they choose to leave Australia or apply their skills and knowledge here, the person-to-person connections they create across the globe are crucial for an ever more interconnected global society and polity. UNSW graduates are sharing their expertise and having a positive impact on lives and communities in more than 150 countries across the world.

UNSW strongly supports the government’s work to crack down on unscrupulous private tertiary providers, many of which exploit international student vulnerability. Blunt instruments run the risk of penalising many to deal with a few. I look forward to continuing to work with Minister Clare and the government more broadly to ensure the policy position the government reaches affirms the valuable contribution international students make to universities and the nation, while through managed and planned growth, simultaneously tackles its migration policy objectives.

Conflict in the Middle East

The loss of life and human suffering related to the Middle East conflict continues to loom large for many of our students, colleagues and friends. Over the recent weeks the wall-to-wall media coverage may have exacerbated the impact felt by many, so as our students start to come back from holidays in the next few weeks, I would ask us all to be mindful of the personal effects this may have had. 

Please continue to build understanding, express compassion and empathy to those who are feeling the effects most keenly and do all in our power to make the start of T2 and our campus a welcoming, supportive and respectful experience and place.  

As always, UNSW will not accept racism, hate speech, inciteful behavior or religious vilification. Visit our Speak up website if necessary or if you need support at this time, please access the services and resources below that can assist you.

Support for students

Support for staff

James Packer Chair in Mood Disorders appointed

I’m pleased to announce that Dr Aswin Ratheesh has been appointed the James Packer Chair in Mood Disorders at UNSW. Dr Ratheesh is a psychiatrist and clinical researcher. His research focuses on understanding pathways leading to the onset of mood disorders, like bipolar disorder, and developing effective treatments.

The Chair, established thanks to a $7 million gift from James Packer and The Packer Family Foundation, will lead a new unit at UNSW and the Mindgardens Neuroscience Network that will conduct rigorous research in mental health, with a particular focus on mood disorders, and progress understanding, prevention and treatment of these disorders. Read more on the UNSW Newsroom.

New PVC Student Success

I’m also pleased to share that Leah Hill has been appointed the new Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Success. Leah has over 18 years of experience within Higher Education and joins us from the University of Sydney, where she has been the Chief Faculty Experience Officer for the past three years and the Faculty General Manager for Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences for almost four years prior. She is a strong advocate and champion for student experience and in her time at the University of Sydney was celebrated for strengthening relationships between Faculties and Divisions. I look forward to working with Leah and elevating the critical work of driving an outstanding student experience at UNSW.  

New UNSW Code of Conduct

UNSW’s new Code of Conduct and Values was approved by Council at the beginning of April and will come into effect this Friday, 17 May. The new Code was created with input from students and staff across the University, with a focus on providing clear parameters for respectful conduct and support to help navigate complex experiences. Thank you to everyone who contributed and to all those who provided feedback on the draft Code.  

The new Code, part of our Policy Transformation Program, consolidates four existing codes and principles from several policies and procedures into a single document. 

It is a seminal resource that will guide the way we communicate and interact, so please do take the time to familiarise yourself with it. The new Code will be available on UNSW’s Policy Hub on Friday.

Driving positive change for forced migrants

Scientia Professor Jane McAdam AO has been appointed an Honorary Associate at the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, the Centre’s highest honour. Jane is an exemplar of UNSW’s vision to progress a just society and improve lives around the world. Jane’s pioneering international law research relating to climate-related human displacement and her leadership of the Kaldor Centre over the last decade, and now the Evacuations Research Hub, has been instrumental in informing policies and driving positive change for refugees and other forced migrants. Congratulations Jane on this well-deserved appointment.

There’s more to read Inside UNSW…

Have a good week, everyone.

Best regards

Professor Attila Brungs
Vice-Chancellor and President