The University of Newcastle, Australia

Transitions and timing

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

November is suddenly upon us and as crisp springtime mornings give way to long summer evenings, and the mosquitoes begin to emerge in earnest from the gum trees, it is a good time to reflect on the year that has been and what lies over the horizon.

Our current students are working hard on the assignments and exams that will either take them into another year at UON or on to new adventures post-graduation, and prospective students from many different backgrounds are beginning their individual journeys to study. For our remarkable staff across the University, 2017 has been a year of delivering on our strategic aspirations through planning, hard work and collaboration across campuses, Units and Schools.

In 2017, UON moved into the Top 1% of the world’s universities – a move that reflects our record of excellence in education and research. While world university ranking systems fluctuate rather like the stock market, it is great to see our reputation as a global leader being recognised by partner universities, staff and students within and beyond Australia.

This year we celebrated the work of our Alumni and Philanthropy team which resulted in the wonderful $26m contribution by the Jack Ma Foundation to UON, which will transform the futures of the Ma & Morley Scholars for many years to come. Celebrating the ‘moment’ in the Conservatorium with Mr Ma and members of the Morley family was both a celebration of our values of equity and excellence, and a milestone in our history.

We all held our collective breath when our CBD flagship NeW Space opened in June, reflecting the culmination of many years of planning, team work, leadership and professionalism demonstrated by staff across the University and our partners. With our Faculty of Business and Law and School of Creative Industries now well settled into NeW Space, and our staff and students enjoying both the cutting edge learning and teaching facilities and the views of our spectacular city, we can be rightly proud of our collective efforts.

Attracting $65 million support from the Federal and State governments for our Central Coast Medical and Health School and Research Institute was also a satisfying example of where strategy meets opportunity, and the outcome of fierce and focussed lobbying on behalf of our Central Coast community.

Across the University, staff in Schools and Units have worked hard to deliver the goals of NeW Futures in classrooms, research laboratories, offices, hackathons and community events. It was with real personal pride that I saw our strategies to build on our proud history of industry engagement to drive innovation come to fruition.  There is no doubt the University stands out as an institution that delivers innovation and impact to our communities within and beyond the regions we serve.

While we and our colleagues across the sector experienced challenges in domestic student recruitment in prior years as demand plateaued in the ‘demand driven system’, it was important to see the increase in commencing students in 2017 and the uplift in first preferences ahead of 2018.  The delivery of consistently strong operating surpluses for UON in the face of challenges within the sector also highlights the maturity that has developed in long term financial planning in the Executive and Resources Division, with the support of our Council in past years.

These achievements give me confidence that we have all of the capital in place – physical, intellectual, and human - that positions UON well for the future. The time therefore feels right at this end of the year to reflect on the next phase of transition for the University.

I have held the view that for Vice-Chancellors, a five year term is a tad short for the delivery of  meaningful goals - and that 10 years is a tad long, as sometimes organisations and their leaders can become just a little comfortable with each other. I have also always considered that it is important to time my career transitions as a leader to work in synchrony with the moments when an institution is ready to move to a next (or new) phase.

Through 2017, it has become clear to me that UON has delivered a major slate of remarkable projects in the past few years, and that there is now a natural break at the end of 2018 which would offer the right timing for a transition to a new VC. I am therefore delighted that the Chancellor has been gracious in agreeing to my change in plan to retire at the end of 2018. There will of course be no change in pace, as there is much to do over the next 12 months as we respond to changes in the higher education environment. I look forward to working with the Chancellor, the Council and our staff across the University during the next 12 months to transform the future of the regions we serve.

Some might quietly point out that my decision to retire is actually because in 2018 is ‘..when I’m 64..’  I could not of course confirm or deny such a scurrilous rumour….

With thanks to all


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