The University of Newcastle, Australia

A culture of courage

Monday, 20 June 2016

The University of Newcastle has a record of being courageous, challenging the status quo and of being a disruptor within the Australian University sector. We pioneered equity of access to higher education well before the introduction of the demand driven system and importantly we have demonstrated that it is possible to build both access and success for students from diverse and challenging backgrounds.

Building on the record of our antecedent institutions, we championed technological, social and business innovation when it was not the fashion in the halls of academia and it was apt that the inaugural Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation was awarded to Professor Graham Jameson in 2015 as we celebrated our first 50 years.

This year we have taken another step to challenge the status quo. In previous issues of In the Loop I have written about the fact that in Australia, over half of science based PhDs are achieved by women, and around half of our early career scientists and researchers are female – but that there is a significant attrition in the proportion of these women who move up the career ladder to senior leadership positions in universities, industry or research. Currently less than 20% of professors in the sciences are women and this represents a significant waste of expertise and talent and challenges Australia’s  innovation capacity and productivity.

Challenging boundaries

So it is one thing to be aware of the stats – it is another thing to change them. I was delighted that UON was chosen as one of the first group of Australian Universities to pilot the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program, adapted from the Athena SWAN Charter in the UK, as an initiative of the Australian Academies of Science and Technological Sciences and Engineering set up to address gender equity issues in the STEMM sector. But while this program will support us to address the gender related issues in STEMM career progression, it will take time for results to come through and we have therefore decided to take a more definitive step .

After a suitably comprehensive application process, we have been successful in gaining a three year exemption from the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW that will provide flexibility in achieving workforce targets to address the under-representation of women in senior academic positions. This exemption presents exciting and immediate opportunities.  As part of our Global Recruitment Campaign which started this month, we are now actively recruiting for a “Women in Science Chair”, a female scientist who as a global leader drives world class science in her  laboratory and is equally a champion for career progression for women in science.

In tandem we are also actively turning our attention to meeting the target we set for ourselves to increase representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our workforce. This will ensure that our workforce targets are not simply ‘paper targets’, and that our recruitment strategies actively  support  and deliver on our commitment to an equitable and diverse workforce.

At a time when we are faced with major change across the global geopolitical, economic and higher education landscape, it is critical that ‘being courageous’ is a strong part of the UON culture. When leaders before us took the opportunity to change those things which needed to be changed, they built a great university - putting forward and acting on ideas which are brave and challenging - will ensure that UON will be well prepared for new and different futures.


ATSE dinner

The Vice-Chancellor hosted a table of mid-senior career STEMM women at the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences (ATSE) Awards in Sydney on 15 June. Photo credit: Kat Stanley, ATSE Innovation Dinner 2016.

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