Inaugural Lectures, rankings and strategic planning

Dear colleagues

I spared you an update over the Easter break, during which I completed my first series of overseas visits since commencing my role at UNSW. That leaves me with quite a lot to update you on – including some recent cultural events and sports results! Our strategic planning consultation is progressing well with enthusiastic input from across the University whilst the staff survey achieved levels of participation not previously achieved by UNSW or our Australian counterparts. I have enjoyed numerous discussions and engagement visits within UNSW, as well as a series of external events. As a result of discussions and planning over the last few weeks, a series of initiatives are progressing including our UNSW Climate Change Forum, the Inaugural Professorial Lecture series and a UNSW Gender Equality initiative.

Inaugural Lectures

I am delighted to announce the first UNSW Professorial Inaugural Lecture series. All of our newly promoted and recruited Professors will be invited to deliver a Professorial Inaugural Lecture to mark their achievement. These will be celebratory and informative occasions open to all staff and students who wish to attend, providing an opportunity to hear some of our leading academics talk about their lives, careers and academic achievements in an accessible format. The professors will be encouraged to invite family and friends as well as colleagues and my hope is that these will be memorable occasions attended by a broad spectrum of the UNSW community. Each event will be followed by a drinks reception, which will provide an excellent forum for networking across the university. Professor Klaus Regenauer-Lieb and Professor Darren Bagnall from the Faculty of Engineering have agreed to speak at the first event on Tuesday May 12th at 5pm in the Council Chamber. An invitation to this and the other approximately 30 lectures in the series this year will follow.

Strategic Planning 2015-2025

Work has continued at pace on the Strategic Planning Consultation. I was delighted to see over 1500 ideas and suggestions from staff submitted via the online route and many others via School and Faculty consultation processes. The submissions received are being collated and will form the basis for a discussion paper to guide the next phase of consultation. The discussion paper, analogous to a “Green Paper” will be circulated to all staff in a couple of weeks and will outline a set of proposals and ideas for our 2015-2025 strategy, as well as a number of questions they raise. There will then be a series of working groups to develop the key strategic proposals and another opportunity for feedback during May and June. In the last phase of strategic planning, in July/August the feedback on the “Green Paper” will be used to shape a “White paper” which will be the close to final version of the UNSW 2015-2025 strategy. We are on target for completion of the strategic plan by October, following which an energetic implementation phase will commence – I can assure you that this will not be a strategy that sits on the shelf. Please do keep feeding your ideas in either directly or via your School/Centre/Division.

UNSW Staff Survey

There has been a fantastic response to the UNSW Staff Survey. A total of 4,142 staff participated, representing 62% of eligible staff. My understanding is that this is an unusually high response rate, compared to other large universities and it is well in excess of the 42% response rate to the 2012 UNSW Survey. In the next few weeks I will receive a detailed report from the Voice Project, the company that ran the survey on our behalf and I will then feedback the findings. The survey is particularly timely, as it will help to inform some of the proposals in the strategy Green Paper.

Gender Equity Initiatives

I have indicated that I see making a contribution to equality for our students, staff and broadly in society as an important priority for UNSW. In late March I was delighted to be able to speak at a meeting of the UNSW Senior Women’s Network. I spoke about my research in ovarian cancer prevention and screening as well as my work in women’s health in Uganda but I also took the opportunity to engage with a large number of staff on the topic of gender equality. I had access to data on gender and role at UNSW, which revealed that although some progress was made between 2005-10 on increasing the number of women in senior posts, there was minimal progress between 2010-15. There are also significant differences between faculties – for example over 50% of Associate Professors are female in four Faculties but less than 25% in four others. It is somewhat reassuring that between 2010-14 the overall female success rate in promotion applications was slightly higher than that of male applicants, but the number of women applying is still too low. At the Network meeting we discussed a variety of proposals to enhance opportunities for both professional and academic staff and all present expressed a determination for UNSW to be a leader in diversity and inclusion in HE in Australia. I have asked Professor Prem Ramburuth (President of the Academic Board) and David Ward (HR Director) to develop a series of actions to drive our gender equality imperative, as a part of our broader equality agenda. One important opportunity we are currently pursuing relates to discussions in Australia about implementation of the Athena SWAN scheme, which has been successful in advancing gender equality in higher education the UK. We have indicated a wish for UNSW to take a lead role in this venture.

Enterprise bargaining

A few staff have asked me about progress in discussions with our union representatives within the Enterprise Bargaining Framework. I have been following progress closely and understand that significant advances have been made in finalising new agreements for both academic and professional staff. My understanding is that the negotiating teams have reached agreement on all substantive matters and it is now a matter of finalising drafting and going through necessary approval processes. In parallel with this process I am looking forward to meeting with NTEU representatives next week as part of my wider staff engagement and consultation process. I hope to see final agreements at that meeting if not before – it will be good news all around to have them in place.

UNSW Climate Change forum

One of the strategic initiatives I have proposed during the last few weeks, is the establishment of a UNSW Forum for debate and discussion on the “Grand Challenges" facing society in Australia and globally. The response during my visits to Schools, Centres and Divisions has been uniformly enthusiastic. On that basis I am proceeding with plans for the first Forum without delay. The intention will be to enhance UNSW’s reputation as a leading national and international centre for discussion and debate on major issues. We will select a series of topics where we have expertise to offer, so that the Forums are informed by UNSW expertise and we will also consider involving external experts. The Forums will have a variety of formats including, for example, small discussion groups, workshops, brain storming sessions, debates and larger scale conferences. One of the topics I have been asked about frequently during my engagement process with staff and students is Climate Change and the pace of change towards renewable energy sources, often in the context of the fossil fuel divestment campaign. Given that many students and staff have an interest in this area and that it is without doubt a “Grand Challenge” for humankind, it seems a good topic for the first UNSW Forum. As a starting point I have convened a working group next week, involving students and staff from across the University, to plan the Forum. My aim is to facilitate robust and lively but considered and informed debate of the quality and tone one would expect to hear at a leading university. More on this and about other Forums in the near future.

UNSW Alumni

My trip over the Easter break included events with UNSW alumni and supporters in the USA and Singapore. We have well over 250,000 alumni, many of them based outside Australia, who are proud of their association with UNSW and keen to assist us in any way that they can. Our 2000 alumni in the USA include both Australians now based in the USA and US nationals who spent time at UNSW on student exchange programmes. Discussions with US alumni over lunch in New York focused on how the alumni could help us raise the profile of UNSW in North America and opportunities to increase philanthropic income from the USA, which is currently less than $1m per annum. Our links with Singapore are extensive and go back to the early days of the first Colombo plan soon after UNSW achieved university status in the 1950s. The Singapore alumni now include many individuals who have been highly successful in business and politics. Several of them were joined at a lunch hosted by Phillip Green, Australian High Commissioner to Singapore, by senior members of the leadership of several Singapore universities and members of parliament. We had a wide ranging discussion about the future of higher education in Singapore and Australia, how we both need to adapt to social/economic changes, lessons from the success of linking government, business and universities in Singapore and potential areas for future collaboration in both education and research.

University rankings

In mid-March UNSW hosted the QS rankings by subject conference. University rankings are now a fact of life in higher education which we cannot ignore, however flawed we may sometimes feel that they are. I take the view that although one can question precise rankings, the universities which are usually in the top 25-50 of the 30,000+ worldwide are, by and large, organisations which have made the sort of major positive contribution to society we should aspire to. With that in mind we were particularly delighted to welcome the QS rankings team which places us 48th in the world – and must of course be the most accurate, given that the Times Higher Education and Shanghai Jaio Tong rankings place us 109th and 130th respectively! The event and our planned rapturous welcome to the QS team were somewhat over shadowed by the announcement that the embargoed QS rankings by subject would be delayed and not released at the meeting. This followed concerns fed through to QS about the embargoed rankings, in which apparently Australian universities (and UNSW) had not fared well. The QS team presented me with a framed QS certificate to mark the occasion - I told them that it will have pride of place in my office if the final rankings by subject put UNSW in a good light but that otherwise I will dust off my Times Higher Education certificate! All of this left me thinking carefully about the criteria used in the international rankings in the context of our 2015-25 strategic planning consultation. The three main international rankings are overwhelmingly research focused giving little credit to other key contributions, which great universities make, such as education, knowledge transfer and social progress. Would there be any merit in a different type of university league table, which attempted to reflect a broader spectrum of university activities? I would be interested to hear your views (

Recruitment and Appointments

The loss of Jonathan Blakeman in November last year deprived UNSW of an outstanding Vice-President for Finance and Operations who gave many years of superb service to the university. It was sad to have to initiate the process to replace Jonathan, but I am pleased to let you know that we have now made an excellent appointment. Following an international search we have appointed Andrew Walters who has been Chief Financial Officer at Deakin University since 2006. During his time at Deakin, Andrew led a transformation of the financial model and budget process as well as leading a series of other forward looking initiatives. He will take up his post in August alongside the other members of the new UNSW Executive Team, which I will finalise by the end of May. Our incoming Dean of Medicine, Professor Rodney Phillips, is visiting UNSW this month and will take up his post on June 28th when Peter Smith steps down after a decade of outstanding service to UNSW. Rodney, who has his roots in Melbourne, moved to the UK 30 years ago and is returning to Australia from his current role as Vice-Dean of Medicine at Oxford University. He has a top quality research track record in infection and immunity with a focus on HIV and has held long term funding from the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust. Rodney brings a wealth of experience from working at a senior level in one of the leading centres for biomedicine worldwide.

Engagement and Events

I have enjoyed a range of events in the last few weeks both on campus and externally. My recent engagement visits have included the School of Biomedical Engineering, School of Chemistry, School of Mathematics, School of Psychology and the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. This week I have had enjoyable visits to our ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and the Climate Change Research Centre (both with outstanding publication track records), the Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre (a truly impressive, cutting edge technology core facility supporting our Science, Medicine and Engineering researchers) and the Black Dog Institute (a high quality Medical Research Institute delivering excellent research and clinical care in the area of mental health). The array of excellence and the collegiate ethos in all of these Schools, Centres and Institutes is deeply impressive. Just before the Easter break I participated in an ABC discussion programme on campus in our Science Theatre entitled “Risky Business” hosted by Robyn Williams with Malcolm Turnbull MP, Sam Mostyn, Non-Executive Director, Professor Herbert Huppert FRS and a large audience in the Science Theatre. There was a wide-ranging discussion of issues under the broad heading of risk with some probing questions from the audience. All seemed to go ok but I won’t know for sure until the edited programme goes out on air - fingers crossed! I have also had enjoyable sessions at the Business School Advisory Council, a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences planning day and the Built Environment School Board. The latter included letting staff in Built Environment know that Professor Alec Tzannes plans to step down from his role as Dean of Faculty at the end of this year. Alec has led the Faculty superbly whilst also managing a flourishing architecture practice. He will be badly missed but has promised to remain involved in university life.

Culture and Sport

During the last few days I have enjoyed a pleasant combination of cultural and sporting events. On Saturday Chris, my wife, and I hosted a small group of alumni and friends of UNSW at dinner in the Scientia Building, before taking them on to hear a wonderful concert by UNSW’s Australia Ensemble, which is managed by UNSW’s Music Performance Unit. The Ensemble was created in 1980 at UNSW and has an international reputation for performance of chamber music. We heard a wonderful programme of Elgar, Ravel, Carter, Sculthorpe and Bresnick. The next concert “Spirits and Shadows” is on May 23rd and features works by Bruch and Beethoven. If you are interested in an evening of beautifully performed music you can find out more and get tickets from We had a different kind of cultural experience on Monday night at the gallery of our Faculty of Art and Design. The gallery is currently showing more than 40 works by the award winning artist Shaun Gladwell who is an alumnus of UNSW. The exhibition includes a fascinating combination of sculpture, books, paintings and video. We were privileged to be shown around the exhibition by Gene and Brian Sherman who have had a long association with Shaun Gladwell through supporting and collecting his works and are also major donors to UNSW and the Faculty. A parallel exhibition of Gladwell’s work is underway at the nearby Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation and both exhibitions continue until April 25th.

So, finally to sport - to stop people from continuing to point out my (entirely unintentional!!) failure to mention the cricket world cup, I offer my belated congratulations to the Aussie team on a great victory. My attention has been more focused on football (soccer) and the run of nine consecutive victories in the premier league and FA Cup by the magnificent Arsenal …… my quest to convert as many UNSW staff to Arsenal supporters continues and can only be aided by the fact that Arsenal are through to a record 19th FA Cup Final having beaten Reading in the FA Cup semi final at the weekend. As I finish this newsletter a major storm is raging in Sydney and NSW. After warnings about the severity of the storm we took the unusual step of advising staff and students to leave campus early. Hopefully everyone will have got home safely and not suffered serious damage to property. The storm reminds me that during the time I have been in Sydney the rainfall has been about three times that in Manchester, which is the wettest city in England. I am sure someone told me that Sydney has good weather………!

Best wishes, Ian