End of year message from the President and Vice-Chancellor

End of year message from the President and Vice-Chancellor

Published: 18 December 2020

End of year message from the President and Vice-Chancellor

This has been a year we have described with superlatives – unprecedented, extraordinary, devastating, unique. A year that began with fires and floods and became one in which UNSW was tested, as never before, by the pandemic. 

In the face of uncertainty and upheaval, the UNSW community has been remarkable. During a well-deserved break you can reflect with pride on the way you have responded in 2020 with resilience, with expertise, with compassion – and with heart. Thank you. 

I have recorded a video message below to express my gratitude to you all:


Our Faculties

On Monday, after consultation about the naming of our faculties, UNSW Council approved names that will be effective from 1 January 2021:

  • Arts, Design & Architecture
  • Business
  • Engineering 
  • Law & Justice
  • Medicine & Health
  • Science

Thank you to those students that have been involved in the consultation process. Following our workplace change process this year, these six Faculties and our six Divisions provide a sound foundation for the work of UNSW in 2021. 


Grand Challenges: thank you for your invaluable insights 

The UNSW Grand Challenges program, which was part of our 2025 Strategy, will conclude this month. The program brought together people from all over the University to share their knowledge and ideas on how to tackle the most pressing problems that face us as a global society. In a little over four years, the program launched seven Grand Challenges and numerous Thought Leadership initiatives that involved 590 people from UNSW who contributed to 251 events and reached an audience of tens of thousands. 

The Centre for Ideas, which partnered with the Grand Challenges program on a number of successful events, will continue this work through UNSOMNIA, the university’s home-grown scheme for discovering and nurturing talented thought leaders. 

I thank Academic Lead, Scientia Professor Rob Brooks, and his team led by Vanessa Cali, for their belief in this incredible program and to all the leads of each Grand Challenges project: 

  • Climate Change – Scientia Professor Matt England
  • Refugees & Migrants – Scientia Professor Jane McAdam and, later, Professor Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
  • Inequality – Professor Rosalind Dixon and Professor Richard Holden
  • Living with 21st Century Technology – Professor Lyria Bennett Moses
  • Rapid Urbanisation – Professor David Sanderson
  • Trust – Dr Katharine Kemp
  • Thriving in the Anthropocene – Professor Ben Newell and Professor Anthony Burke.

The insights gained from this initiative are of lasting value. As we continue to face upheaval, the energy, creativity and brilliance of all who participated in the Grand Challenges program will inform discussion and thinking for many years to come. 

I echo Rob’s closing remark: The important work lies before us all. You can read the final Grand Challenges report here.


Thank you, Ambi

We have been very fortunate to have had Professor Eliathamby ‘Ambi’ Ambikairajah as Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Enterprise, for most of this year. 

Under Ambi’s guidance, the Division of Enterprise has made great strides, increasing knowledge exchange revenue despite the downward pressures on the Australian economy, supporting more startups than UNSW has supported in any year since we launched the 2025 Strategy, and deftly nurturing our Alliances and Precincts partnerships. His personal academic quality has been highlighted recently by the award of another ARC research grant.

As the Division of Enterprise is incorporated into the Division of Research & Enterprise and other Divisions as part of our Workplace Change, Ambi will continue his teaching and research in the Faculty of Engineering.  

I thank Ambi for his outstanding leadership, wisdom and support, not only as Acting DVC Enterprise, but as a lead in the Divisions Working Group of Taskforce 20/21+. His contributions have been invaluable.


Congratulations to 2020 Morton Medallist, Scientia Professor Matthew England

Scientia Professor Matthew England has received a tremendous accolade, in the prized Morton Medal awarded by the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS). 

The Society bestowed the honour on Matt in recognition of his leadership in meteorology, oceanography and climate science, particularly through education and the development of young scientists and through the building of research environments in Australia. Matt has mentored more than 70 young scientists over the past 25 years. 

This has been another impressive year for Matt, who was announced as the Deputy Director (Research) for the successful ARC Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, and was instrumental in establishing the International Universities Climate Alliance which UNSW leads.


Farewell, Professor Michael Frater

This month the UNSW community farewells Professor Michael Frater as Rector of UNSW Canberra.

Under Michael’s leadership, UNSW Canberra’s teaching and research performance has progressed and there are now many areas in which UNSW Canberra researchers are world leaders. The creation of the UNSW Defence Research Institute to help develop and coordinate UNSW’s defence-related research was an important step. This initiative has led to greatly increased research engagement between UNSW, the Department of Defence and the defence industry. It will be critical to UNSW’s future success in defence research.

Michael also led the development of important cross-disciplinary research at UNSW Canberra in Cyber Security and Space. These initiatives led to increased engagement between UNSW work in Canberra and UNSW Sydney. The UNSW Cyber Institute brings together researchers from across UNSW’s campuses. In Space UNSW Canberra has launched three satellites, with a fourth to be launched early in 2021.

In recent years Michael played a key role in the successful negotiations to extend the UNSW contract with the Department of Defence and in discussions with the ACT government to secure our new Canberra campus opportunity.

I am grateful for the positive contributions Michael has made to UNSW during his two terms as Rector of UNSW Canberra.

Michael leaves UNSW on 3 January 2021, with Harvi Sidhu taking on the role of Acting Rector of UNSW Canberra while we undertake the search for Michael’s successor.


UNSW Engineering wins gender diversity award

Congratulations to our colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering who have won the award for Most Encouraging Student or Non-for-Profit Group in Gender Diversity 2020 from Engineers Australia. 

This award, bestowed by the peak professional body, celebrates UNSW Engineering’s work to recognise the contributions of women engineers, to foster their professional development and to inspire women to pursue engineering careers. 

I am reminded that UNSW Engineering’s Faculty Values note “Different perspectives spur innovative thinking” and I applaud all in the Faculty who have applied this value in striving for gender equity. As Professor Lucy Marshall, Associate Dean (Equity and Diversity) has said of this important accolade, it is an honour to be recognised for efforts to ensure the engineering profession benefits from the talents of all in our society. 


UNSW academics among the most influential in the world

The international impact of research carried out by UNSW academics has received another strong endorsement, this time in the latest update from the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford University. 

Forty-three UNSW researchers were placed in the top 10,000 scientists globally, based on citations received in 2019 – the most from any Australian university. For career-long citations (from 1996), UNSW came second in Australia, behind the University of Melbourne.

Special congratulations to Professor Mat Santamouris (Building & Construction) and Professor Simon Gandevia (Physiology) for ranking first in the world over their respective careers. Professors Gandevia and Santamouris were also among eight UNSW researchers in the top 10 in their primary field of research based on 2019 citations. 

The world-class quality of our researchers continues to impress. You can read more about our results here.  


Thank you, Professor Adrian Piccoli

It is with sincere thanks for his immense contribution to the Gonski Institute for Education that we farewell Professor Adrian Piccoli as the Institute’s inaugural Director. 

In Adrian’s two years at the helm, he has helped establish the Institute as a centre of excellence in educational access and equity. Adrian brought a wealth of experience in education policy to the Gonski Institute, joining UNSW from his role as the NSW Minister for Education. Under his leadership, the Gonski Institute for Education has grown its reputation, expertise and impact in educational practice and has become a strong advocate for positive change in educational policy. 

Adrian concludes his directorship at the end of this year and will remain part of our community as Honorary Professor of Practice.

I look forward to sharing news of the Institute’s next Director in the new year.


Institute for Global Development

I was sad to see Dr Sarah Cook finish as Director of the Institute for Global Development (IGD) this year and I know you will join me in thanking her for the great work she did in her time with the Institute. I wish Sarah all the best for the future. 

I am delighted that Professor David Sanderson has agreed to serve as interim lead for the Institute from 2021. David has worked in development and humanitarian disaster response for close to 30 years. In his position in UNSW Built Environment he has led the Urban Response Asia Pacific (URAP) conferences at UNSW in 2018 and 2020, as well as serving as lead for the Grand Challenge in Rapid Urbanisation. David will work with the team at the IGD to continue to promote UNSW’s work in development, particularly to highlight the university’s important contributions to the global Sustainable Development Goals. IGD is in good hands. 


Best wishes for the holiday break

Info Day will take place on campus this Saturday, 19 December and it will be a delight to have so many on campus again. 

Due to new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Northern Beaches, we urge onshore students to read the most recent updates from the NSW Government and stay COVID-safe.

I very much look forward to seeing more students and staff back on campus next year. Preparations for O-Week are under way, some of our offshore international students will hopefully join us early in the new year, and a range of ‘live’ events and activities will again enrich our University community and experience.

Our campus will be ready to welcome you all back in 2021 with required COVID-19-safe measures still in place. We’ll continue to provide further details on any changes to COVID-19 restrictions and how they may impact our full return to campus as they become available.

Again, I offer my deepest gratitude for your efforts in this testing year. It has been my honour to lead a University with such a talented and compassionate community.

I offer my best wishes to you and your loved ones for a happy, safe, peace-filled holiday season. 

And finally, I hope that life treats you all well in 2021.

With very best wishes


Professor Ian Jacobs
President and Vice-Chancellor