Annual report

Vice-Chancellor's overview

In 2014, UWA achieved further success in its educational and research activities and made plans to review and revise its internal operations to ensure continued progress in a changing and challenging environment.

The University of Western Australia can proudly claim a century of outstanding intellectual achievement and distinguished service to the State of Western Australia.

We have spent 2014 examining how we might strengthen the institution and have made several internal structural changes that we believe will better serve the University into the future.

The support and encouragement from staff towards this preparation for success has been tremendous and reflects a drive throughout the UWA community to pursue excellence, no matter how difficult or ambitious it might be.

It is a tremendous privilege to lead this great organisation and I do so in the knowledge that we have the ability and the desire to further grow the intellectual, educational and research achievements of Western Australia.

Financial result

The University recorded a consolidated net operating result of $90.6 million and University net operating result of $90.2 million for the year ended 31 December 2014 (2013: consolidated $124.8 million, University $124.8 million).

The University believes it is useful to provide readers of the financial statements with additional financial information on the underlying result of the University.

In 2014, the Go8 universities undertook a review of the methodology of calculating an underlying result with the intent that it will be adopted consistently across the Go8 universities. The recommended methodology is designed to identify the performance of the core activities of a university.This is a variant to the previous methodology adopted by the University that adjusts the net operating result for timing variations, capital grants, donations and the entire investment income.

A large proportion of the endowment and gifted funds managed by the University are invested in perpetuity or can only be used for specific purposes.

Under the terms of the trust deeds, most of the investment income derived from these investments must be retained to maintain the real value of the funds and is not therefore available to fund operational activity of the University. The contribution to the operating result from the endowment and gifted funds of $42.3 million (2013: $89.9 million) is therefore excluded from the underlying result.

Under the new Go8 methodology, investment income that is not available to support core activities is also excluded from the underlying result. This includes investment income applied to preserve the capital value of investment funds or reserve of $12.7 million (2013: $20.5 million).

The 2014 net operating result includes the receipt of capital grants totalling $17.8 million (2013: $5.2 million), which are not available for underlying core activities.

The unspent research and other specific grants of $2.5 million (2013: $8.0 million) are timing variations where revenue is recognised ahead of being spent which impacts the understanding of the University's net operating result.

The University's 2014 underlying surplus of $14.9 million is an improvement over last year's surplus of $1.2 million.

The University has in previous years embarked on a number of initiatives and management control measures which are beginning to produce results. Due to major funding cuts and reforms to the higher education sector, the University will continue to operate in a challenging operating environment. The University will continue to focus on generating a positive underlying result and building its financial capacity.

University level underlying result under the new Go8 methodology

Net operating result 49.6 50.0 101.8 124.8 90.2
Adjusted for:
Endowment and gifted funds
Investment funds
Capital grants
Research and other specific grants
Underlying result 26.8 9.3 (8.5) 1.2 14.9

Federal Government's Higher Education Reforms

The University spent much time in the second half of 2014 considering and responding to the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill. The main purpose of this Bill is to enable reforms to expand opportunity and choice in higher education in Australia, and ensure that Australia is not left behind at a time of rising performance by universities around the world. It contained several fundamental changes to the way higher education is delivered in Australia.

As Vice-Chancellor, I have welcomed deregulation, as I believe the greater autonomy will help us better compete in a globally competitive market by being able to enhance our student experience, conduct more high impact research, and attract the best academics from around the world.

The other elements of the budget reforms include several substantial changes to the way universities are funded for teaching and research as well as how students repay their higher education loans and the interest rate at which they repay. We have been cautious about these proposed changes and have worked closely with the Government on the detail of the reform package with a particular focus on the proposed changes to the student loan repayment provisions and cuts to the Commonwealth Grant Support (CGS). This was uncharted territory for every university in the country and it has been a positive experience engaging with stakeholders to plan the bold steps that are needed to prepare the sector for the future.

In November, the University's management announced a proposal, subject to the proposed reform legislation being enacted, to set an annual fee (student contribution) of $16,000 commencing in 2016 for domestic (Commonwealth-supported) students per annual full-time enrolment (48 points of credit) in any of our five undergraduate degrees [BSc, BA, BCom, BDesign, BPhil(Hons)], subject to annual indexation. Having one of the most modern, flexible and internationally recognised course structures in the country allows the University to develop a simple and innovative pricing structure. We decided to be the first in the country to signal its pricing intentions through our Senate submission to counter much uninformed speculation about possible fee levels.

At the time of writing this report, the future of the legislation is unresolved, having been defeated in the Senate in the last sitting week of Parliament for 2014. UWA was disappointed with this development but looks optimistically to Parliament returning in 2015 with a goal to see these important reforms come to pass.

Back to top

Internal operations

A high-level re-organisation of reporting lines took effect from 1 January 2014 in order to align the University's professional services with our core institutional priorities of education, research and external engagement. This realignment provided the starting point for a subsequent analysis of business processes and systems through detailed reviews of each core administrative function to identify opportunities to introduce more effective and efficient processes and business systems.

Based on broad support in the feedback received to my discussion paper of August 2013 titled UWA 2020: Preparing for Success, the University decided to proceed with several changes to internal operations.

Functional reviews commenced in February 2014 and continued in a sequence throughout 2014. The reviews were organised through the Office for Operational Excellence, led by senior academic, Professor Ian McArthur. The reviews focused on administrative activities and processes and with widespread staff secondment to the project, an enduring culture of continuous improvement has been created. The ambition of 2015 is to embed into our internal operations many of the inspiring suggestions for improvements that have emerged from these functional reviews.

Back to top

Education Futures

The UWA Education Futures Project was established in May 2014 to develop a vision for student learning and teaching at UWA, which will in turn guide developments in our educational offerings and in other areas which impact on the delivery of our education. This project will enable us to identify and extend current best practices; develop a vision for future 'best practice', and to make plans to build the capabilities and resources to realise this vision.

We are undertaking a full review of pedagogic purpose and practice, with the aim of introducing new pedagogies from the beginning of 2015. The review considers factors such as the effectiveness of different teaching styles; the preferences of students for different combinations of online and face-to-face learning; the technological and infrastructure requirements of different approaches to teaching and learning; the skills and capabilities required of teaching and support staff; and the opportunities for national and international collaboration in the design and delivery of educational programs.

UWA staff have engaged enthusiastically with this project and that our future educational offerings will meet and exceed the changing expectations of UWA students.

In 2014 the delivery of a world-class student experience was included as a key strategic objective for the Education portfolio. Implementation of this objective across the University has resulted in a number of initiatives including a new model for student orientation, a review of Sports at UWA, delivery of a mobile smartphone app for students, opening of the Student Central building and notable growth in support for students to develop their career skills.

Back to top

Strategic Plan

In March 2014 a new Strategic Plan was finalised, building on a century of success and on the reputation of UWA as one of Australia's, and the world's, leading research universities.

The plan sets out the mission of the University to provide world-class education, research and community engagement for the advancement of the prosperity and welfare of our communities; and reaffirms the vision to be recognised as one of the world's top 50 universities by 2050.

It establishes the values and characteristics of the University that infuse and guide all aspects of our operation and behaviour as well as identifying a number of strategic objectives for us to meet across our key areas of education, research, engagement and operations.

We aim to excel in all that we do, and will consistently compare our performance with the highest international benchmarks and standards. We will provide the best possible educational, research and employment environment for our students and staff, and we will continue to support our local, national and international communities through the production and dissemination of new and relevant knowledge. We can be confident that meeting the targets and attaining the goals set out in the Strategic Plan will ensure the continued development and success of UWA as it moves into its second century.

Back to top

The half cohort

In 2001, the Western Australian Government increased the pre-school and school entry age by six months to align with other Australian states and territories. This change reduced the kindergarten cohort in 2001 by approximately 40 per cent.

By the end of 2014, this 'half cohort' resulted in a Year 12 school-leaver cohort of around 13,000 students, compared to 21,000 students in the previous year. The half cohort will have an impact on each West Australian university in 2015; at UWA we estimate that the cost, in terms of revenue foregone, will be in the order of $50 million over the period 2015–2019, should we take no compensating actions.

We have reviewed and modified our admission and enrolment policies to moderate the impact of the half cohort, particularly by shifting our student mix profile away from an historical high reliance on school leaver enrolments. The half cohort effect is predictable and so we have sought to manage changes to our business conditions.

Access to higher education at UWA will not be altered for the 2015 half cohort, relative to preceding and succeeding cohorts, but there will be a labour market impact with fewer graduates coming on to the market in January 2018.

The half cohort impact should be a 16.6 per cent reduction in student load in 2015, with a diminishing percentage impact in each of the following two years, depending on withdrawal rates. With varying numbers of mature-age, international and postgraduate students, the actual impact on student load and revenue for each university will likely be much smaller.

Back to top

Cycle 2 courses

The implementation of the New Courses model has begun to increase graduate numbers and so in 2014, University management identified cycle 2 (i.e. master's degree) courses as our 'burning platform'. The first cohort of New Courses students completed their degree in 2014 and many enrolled into graduate programs in 2015.

Throughout the year we considered and implemented upgrades to our cycle 2 offerings and improved our means of accommodating and serving this expected increase in graduate numbers.

Back to top

University rankings

In the past 12 months, UWA has climbed a further three places in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, to be placed at 88 in the world. The result announced in August by the respected Centre for World-Class Universities at China's Shanghai Jiao Tong University, confirms UWA as one of the nation's, and the world's, best tertiary education institutions.

In October, UWA rose 11 places in the annual Times Higher Education World University Rankings, moving from 168 to 157. In the subject area rankings, UWA made it into the top 100 universities for Life Sciences (64), Social Sciences (77), and Clinical, Pre-clinical and Health (96).

UWA also achieved a Five Stars Plus rating in the QS Stars University Ratings. Only 10 universities worldwide have achieved this rating, which takes into account a range of factors, such as internationalisation, innovation and engagement, as well as research, teaching and facilities.

These results clearly confirm that the University's strategies to attract the best teachers and researchers from around the world, as well as increasing the number of publications in prestigious journals, are working.

Back to top

Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research

Western Australia's premier adult medical research institute, the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, officially opened its doors on 11 March 2014.

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott launched the state-of-the-art research facility along with the Premier and Governor of Western Australia. This marks a major milestone for medical research in Western Australia, as it brings together laboratory-based and clinical researchers from several organisations.

The high spec 10-storey building within the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre is home to leading researchers from The University of Western Australia and other affiliates from the former Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR).

The Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research stands out as our State's leading adult medical research institute, investigating the genetic and environmental causes of a range of diseases. The institute is led by Professor Peter Leedman and the University is privileged to be a major partner.

Back to top

Awards and achievements

As Vice-Chancellor, news reaches me every day to remind me of the wealth of talented people in the UWA community. The University's students, staff and alumni, provide a procession of celebrations that delivers me the greatest confidence in the future of both UWA and society more broadly.

Some of the highlights of the achievements of staff in 2014 include that of Professor Lyn Beazley AO, who was awarded Western Australia's Australian of the Year and inducted into the Science Hall of Fame, along with former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Robson AO.

Graduate and former Fremantle Ports chief Kerry Sanderson AO was appointed Governor of Western Australia and Professor Peter Klinken, former director of WAIMR, was appointed Chief Scientist of Western Australia.

Director of the UWA Institute for Agriculture, Professor Kadambot Siddique AM won the Professions Award for excellence resulting in a major social, scientific or economic impact at a state, national or international level.

Professor Ian Small was named the WA Scientist of the Year and the University's Centre for Integrative Bee Research won the Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year.

Professor Ryan Lister was awarded the 2014 Prime Minister's Prize for Life Sciences and Professor Denise Chalmers, Professor Jane Heyworth and Ms Jo Hocking were all awarded prestigious university teaching awards from the national Office for Learning and Teaching.

UWA's Centenary celebrations were recognised with a prestigious Grand Gold award as part of the Circle of Excellence awards program from CASE, the international Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Three of our emerging scientists were recognised as the State's brightest young researches in the prestigious Tall Poppy Awards—Dr Brendan Kennedy, Dr Peter Peeling and Dr Tristan Clemons.

Australia's first online national bushfire spread simulation program, 'Aurora', was announced the winner of the 2014 'Revitalising the Regions' category at the WA Premier's Awards for Excellence; and the University's 'Courageous Conversations About Race' program was recognised at the Australian Human Resources Inclusion and Diversity Awards 2014.

The outstanding achievements of students brings us tremendous pride and they are too many to mention individually, but an excellent example of how they excel is found in Timothy Lefroy, 21, from Moora, who won the West Australian of the Year Youth Award for excellence in commitment to citizenship. His mentoring and artistic pursuits resulted in a positive impact on the lives of others. I look forward to sharing in the achievements of UWA's outstanding people in 2015.


Professor Paul Johnson

Back to top