The Fellow, a Birthday, the Budget and some Wedding…

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Any VC’s email inbox has to bear a heavy load, which really no self-respecting inbox should be asked to endure. An average day brings myriad media alerts with equal and opposite views on the merits of the Federal Budget, news from UON staff working in time zones across the world, the inevitable financial documents, invitations to conferences… not to mention that invite to some wedding in England...

But amidst the views, news, wedding hype and requests to attend conferences in far-flung places on diverse topics such as Disaster Management (not a bad one for a VC….) sometimes one’s inbox contains a gem.

This month, that gem was an email with wonderful news: that Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson AO had been elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society – a rare and remarkable honour. The Royal Society is a Fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists and is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, dating from the 1600s. Professor Jameson’s work in chemical engineering has changed the world, impacting the energy, resources, environmental and a host of other industry sectors. The Jameson Cell recovers billions of dollars of fine coal and minerals each year; it has also been used for extracting oil from tar sands in Canada, cleaning up industrial wastewaters, and removing blue-green algae from Australian inland waterways. I know across all our campuses there will be a quiet, but proud, celebration in recognition of an outstanding career forged in a young and remarkable University. Even more remarkable is that Laureate Professor Jameson joins two other Royal Society Fellows at UON – Laureate Professor Scott Sloan and Emeritus Laureate Professor Graham Goodwin – an impressive trifecta indeed.

Recently, far less wonderful, but more prosaic emails flowed into university inboxes (and were followed by pings of deleting...) as commentary built around this year’s Federal Budget announcement. Last December the Government capped Commonwealth support for Australian undergraduates in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), and this remains in place. There was however some good news in this years Budget for those regional students who might aspire to enter enabling and sub-bachelor pathway programs and some funding support was announced to create Regional Study Hubs.

It was also positive to see the Budget announcement of $393 million investment over five years for national research infrastructure – whether one is an Early Career Fellow, or a Fellow of the Royal Society it is critically important to have access to world-class research facilities in Australia. As our colleagues at Universities Australia said last week, it is a down-payment on future prosperity.

The $275 million in funding towards projects under the Medical Research Future Fund is also one we welcome, as we work with our NSW Regional Health Partners – a healthcare partnership that aligns clinicians, educators and researchers across the Hunter New England, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast districts of NSW. As one of Australia’s first Centres for Innovation in Regional Health, this partnership will support access to the MRFF and deliver innovations in health care for communities across our regions.

As a University we are absolutely committed to delivering high quality medical education and training across rural and regional NSW through our Joint Medical Program with our partner, the University of New England. We therefore look forward to working with the Murray Darling Medical School Network, another initiative announced in the Budget. This Network will not attract new medical places- rather it will be built by redistributing medical places from existing medical schools to the centres in the Network. Our University made a commitment a year ago to move some of our own medical school places to the Central Coast, to establish a new Medical School there, and it seems in this we were again ahead of the curve – as our Medical School has always been since its foundation 40 years ago. It was a great night last week when government and community representatives, CEOs from Local Health Districts, academics and professional staff, students and alumni from UON and UNE came together at an evening lecture last week to begin the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the University of Newcastle Medical School. Laureate Professor Jenny Gore delivered an impressive lecture on widening participation in higher education – with important insights into broadening participation in the medical program and profession. A fitting celebration of excellence and equity.

While there were some positives in the Federal Budget, it has to be said that the impact of the ‘MYEFO cap’ on already stretched resources in universities is growing. There is absolutely no doubt that the future of the demand driven system, and of equitable access to higher education for the economic and social prosperity of regions across Australia will be a central issue leading up to the next Federal election – as it should.

So it was with a heavy inbox that I just couldn’t make those celebrations in Windsor on the weekend (that and the fact that wearing of hats was compulsory….) – choosing instead to raise a glass to our new Fellow of the Royal Society, who has travelled his own Long Walk to reach a truly historic milestone.


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