Reflections on our 50th anniversary year
Late last month I had the privilege of hosting a 50th birthday celebration on behalf of UON at Parliament House in Canberra. It was a proud moment as I looked around the Mural Hall to see Ministers, Shadow Ministers and MPs mingling with staff, students, alumni and friends of the University engaging and reflecting on the attributes of a great university.
Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, spoke to UON's achievements and highlighted his commitment to both equity and excellence as key to the future of Australian higher education. Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, referred to the University's transformation over the past 50 years as 'phenomenal' and highlighted the importance of our research and innovation programs.
One of our most senior alumni in government, Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos, also reflected on the good times he spent at UON during his undergraduate years and the "world class education" UON delivers, describing the University as "integral to the vision" of the Hunter region and Newcastle as a thriving global city. Our Federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon MP (pictured second from right with Senator Deborah O'Neill, Chancellor Paul Jeans and myself) rounded out the event with a warm toast to UON and to its next 50 years, praising 'the tremendous minds and talents and the wonderful creative spirit of people at the University of Newcastle'".
Guests at the event could be forgiven for thinking that we had had a hand in writing the speaking notes for our parliamentarians. We hadn't, but the words these leaders chose reflected the impact of the extraordinary work of many generations of staff, students and leaders across the past 5 decades. The key messages from each of our speakers were also aligned to our vision and commitment as a global leader to create a better future for our regions through innovation and impact.
A remarkable year
Reflecting on what has been achieved during a remarkable year, one of the stand outs was the establishment of the 15th International Training Centre for Authorities and Leaders in the UNITAR network and the partnership with the Newcastle City Council resulting in the designation of Newcastle as a 'United Nations city'. The Training Centre will draw on UON's disciplinary strengths in areas such as disaster resilience and recovery and risk preparedness. The potential impact of this centre in terms of capacity building in regions such as our Asia-Pacific region is significant.
In September we were much impressed by the motorcades that travelled in some style from the airport to the city which accompanied the President of Tanzania, President Kikwete to UON during his visit to receive his Honorary Doctorate at a very special ceremony in Newcastle Town Hall.
And who can forget our 50th birthday celebrations which we shared with members of our communities across NSW, Australia and Singapore. The colourful Graduation Procession through the city streets to the Civic Theatre, the wonderful exhibitions about UON's history and impact on the Central Coast and in Newcastle, the astounding Book Fair and our staff Gala Reunion in the transformed Great Hall and our moving Alumni Homecoming and Alumni Awards were just some of the many highlights of the year. Many cakes were cut, toasts made and speeches given - but it was also a year where beyond the formalities, old friends reconnected and stories were told with a wry smile and memories shared. We thank all of our champions, ambassadors, students and staff who worked so hard to make 2015 our milestone year to remember.
We will also remember 2015 as the year we opened our stylish new student accommodation, our new campus facility in the heart of Sydney and the state-of-the art Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) building at Callaghan campus. And for those who wondered when it might happen, NeW Space made it 'out of the ground' in 2015 – right on cue.
Turning our focus to the future
At the end of a year of celebration and achievement, we have now started to focus on the opportunities that lie ahead in a changing and often challenging world. Our decadal NeW Futures Strategic Plan is a bold plan, and an exciting one. This plan was shaped by input from across UON and our communities and it reflects the next stage of our journey as a global leader committed to creating a better future for our regions through equity and excellence, innovation and impact. There are strong global headwinds that will continue to impact the Australian economy and have flow on effects in our community. The NeW Futures Plan addresses these impacts through ensuring our graduates will be equipped to make a difference and that our work with global and national partners will drive global and regional impact. The Plan reflects a new maturity and a commitment to ensuring that UON is nimble and agile in the face of volatility. There is also something about the way in which the artwork of Nicole Chaffey, an indigenous UON graduate managed to connect the interconnecting themes of the NeW Futures to a sense of place, space and purpose.
Well, the C50 balloons and champagne glasses are being packed away, colleagues across the globe have received festive cards and messages uniquely featuring our 2015 ERA results and that list of things to do 'this year' is slowly getting shorter. Holidays beckon – there will be road trips, trips to exotic destinations, and long periods of time on the couch with a great DVD Box Set and the leftovers– and many variations of 'time out' in between. My sincere thanks to everyone for all of your exceptional contributions to UON in the big year that was 2015. I wish you all a very well-deserved break with family and friends over the holiday period and I look forward to a new year at UON in 2016.