Caroline McMillen

Caroline McMillen: from the VC's Desk

Over the past six months I have had enthusiastic and productive discussions with staff, alumni and the community about the University's 2025 Vision and the NeW Directions planning process. Our aim through NeW Directions is to build the University's performance and reputation and, in turn, strengthen global leadership in each of our spheres of achievement.

The recent announcement of the inclusion of our University in two global rankings of top universities in the world under the age of 50 reinforced that we are currently 'punching above our weight for age' in a highly competitive global environment.

The Times Higher Education (THE) and the QS World University Rankings each assessed the performance of higher education institutions across the world that are under 50 years of age across a number of measures including teaching, research and international outlook. The QS World University Rankings placed Newcastle at number 33 in the world in its 'Top 50 under 50' index; and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings placed us at 45 in its '100 under 50'.

Interestingly there were 14 Australian universities included in the THE '100 under 50' and 10 Australian universities included in the QS 'Top 50 under 50'. The outcome of the THE ranking was perhaps the more interesting as the weighting for 'reputation' in this ranking was reduced compared to that used in its usual ranking of all universities in the world. This was based on the major impact that the age of a university can play in determining its score for 'academic reputation'. The outcomes of these rankings of the 'up and coming' universities in the world has a particular relevance for Australia given that the median age of Australian universities is just 26 years.

The reforms in Australia's higher education sector in the 1960s increased the number of universities in Australia from nine to 14, and the Dawkins reforms of the late 80s, which developed 'a unified national system' by merging Colleges of Advanced Education, led the number to double from 19 to today's 38. During both periods of reform there was significant national debate on the 'wisdom' of expanding both the number of universities in Australia and the number of places for students to access a higher education. This debate continues today as commentators inside and outside the sector espouse the need to 'concentrate' more research support funding in fewer – usually older – 'world class' universities in Australia. In some instances the question has even been posed of whether the sector should 're-binarise'.

In this context, recognition of the performance of those Australian universities under 50 against their world peers provides a clear indication that the energy and investment invested by government and communities in building these institutions has resulted in a 'globally competitive university system'. The outcomes raise the question around whether future investments, such as through the $300 million Sustainable Research Excellence fund, should focus on building research excellence capacity, as well as on rewarding research excellence.

For the University of Newcastle, being ranked on the list of 'ones to watch' is important as we work to build on our world class performance to expand our global reputation and leadership role across areas of equity, teaching and research. Through the development and implementation of the goals and lead strategies in the emerging NeW Directions Strategic Plan, there is no doubt we can move from our rank among the 'ones to watch' to being the 'one to catch'.