The University of Western Australia, in 2019, had many achievements in which it and the Western Australian community can take pride. It also faced challenges, internal and external, which confront the higher education sector in Australia generally. The Senate of the University, which it is my honour to chair, was closely engaged throughout 2019 in its governance of the University, particularly with respect to the development of the Strategic Plan 2020-2025 and the Campus Master Plan, the adoption of financial andbudgeting strategies to enable the University to engage effectively with a rapidly changing global higher education environment, and in monitoring areas of risk and compliance through its Strategic Resources and Audit and Risk Committees.
As I observed in the introduction to the 2018 Annual Report, the University must continually assess and reassess how best to deploy its human, financial and physical resources, maintain a positive organisational culture and meet the requirements of good governance. This is a relentless task for the Senate and its committees and the academic and executive leadership of the University.
Following the restructuring, which was completed in 2017, there was a substantial commitment in 2019 to the development of a Strategic Plan through to 2025 to implement the decadal vision, UWA 2030. The first meeting of the Senate on 11 March 2019 included a presentation of the draft Strategic Plan by members of the Senior Executive and Faculty Executive Deans. The Senate was impressed with the level of commitment and enthusiasm shown by all Executive Members and with the level of consultation which had preceded it. The Plan was approved by the Senate at that meeting. While there is a level of generality in its language, the Plan appropriately defines future directions for the University over the next five years and provides a principled framework for its implementation.
There have been challenges and controversies which are a feature of the sector generally and are sometimes prominent in internal and public discourse. These, however, must be placed in perspective with the overwhelming number of indisputably good stories which can be told about the University and its people in their teaching and research, and in their community and global engagements.
Some of those are set out in the Report that follows. It is difficult to point to highlights from such a rich array. One might be the ranking of our Law School as 75th in the world according to the Times Higher Education survey ranking. Another might be the national recognition of Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger, who received the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for her contribution to the mathematicalsciences. There are many others.
In the pursuit of its extensive and diverse research activities the University won substantial funding for new infrastructure in areas including nanofabrication, ocean sensing, proteomics and metabolomics, and microscopy. Our researchers contributed to knowledge in genome evolution in green plants and climate change-related issues, including solutions to food production problems arising out of drought. They are participating in a global collaboration involving high-quality genomics to assist in conservation and biodiversity. The outgoing Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robyn Owens, who has rendered outstanding service to this University in that role, describes our mission in this Report as “[remaining] an internationally connected research-intensive university actively supported by, and supportive of, our stakeholders and community.” As she writes, knowledge led discovery will remain central to our future and will underpin our economicand social impacts.
External philanthropic and industry support has been and continues to be of vital significance to the University’s work in pursuit of its purposes. In 2019 the first of the Forrest Scholars, supported by the Forrest Research Foundation, funded by Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation,submitted a doctoral thesis relating to plant biodiversity in Western Australia. That researcher will remain in Perth to continue the work.
The Forrest Research Foundation, which was established in 2013, provides high-quality residential accommodation at Forrest Hall and financial support for postgraduate and postdoctoral students and Fellows across a variety of disciplines, and the opportunity for informal and formal interdisciplinary exchange. Its activities will be supported into the future with the construction of Forrest Hall 2, which will provide additional accommodation for Scholars and Fellows and short-term accommodation for visitors to the University. At the end of 2019 there were 19 Scholars and six Fellows at Forrest Hall, and four non-resident Scholars.
The transmission of knowledge through teaching is a fundamental responsibility of the University. In 2019 we launched our Education Transformation Program, directed to teaching excellence, the student experience, the development of experience-rich curricula, life-long learning and regional education. It also seeks to support University-wide priorities in global participation, Indigenous strategy, digital transformation and regional strategies within Western Australia.
The expectations and demands of students today are changing. As Professor David Sadler, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), reports, the University is responding to those demands and expectations. Indeed, it is seeking to anticipate them. By way of example, it has recently approved a policy framework for micro-credentials and opportunities forstudents to up-skill outside of their formal degree structure.
The shape of the campus and its facilities; the student experience, including the substantial enhancement of information technology; and the securing of research funding and financial sustainability generally in a changing local and global environment will require the close attention of the University leadership in the years ahead.
An important development has been the review of University statutes and regulations which is now close to completion. The purpose of the review has been to simplify and rationalise a plethora of disparate instruments. Provisions of the legislation relating to the structure and operations of the Academic Board were completed during the year following an extensive consultation and workshop process and should lead to a more efficient and functional Board in the years ahead.
I wish to take this opportunity to express deep appreciation for the dedication and commitment of members of the Senate and its committees, all of whom make their contributions to the governance of the University on a voluntary basis. This is philanthropy in kind of the highest order. It is to be found beyond the Senate and its committees in the various advisory bodies and voluntary groups associated with the University at many levels. It is particularly reflected in the work of Convocation. I express my thanks to its Council Members and to the retiring Warden, Dr Doug McGhie, for their tireless work in sustaining and deepening the University’s engagement with its own graduate community.
2019 has seen the retirement from Senate of staff elected members Jamie O’Shea and Craig Williams, and student-elected members Conrad Hogg and Alexander Tan—outgoing Guild President and outgoing President of the Postgraduate Students’ Association, respectively. All have rendered great service to the University by their contributions. The Senate welcomed new co opted and Government-appointed members at the beginning of and during the year. They were Michael Byrne, Joanne Farrell, Sue Gordon and Robert Olivier. We also welcomed new student representatives, Brehany Shanahan,the incoming President of the Guild of Undergraduates, and Rahul Kumar, the new President of the PostgraduateStudents’ Association.
December 2019 saw the departure from the Senate of the Acting University Secretary, Kabilan Krishnasamy, whom I thank for his tireless diligence in that important role. He will continue to serve the University as Academic Secretary and in other ways. We welcome the new University Secretary, Sue Moore.
In 2019, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater, announced her resignation from the office of Vice-Chancellor with effect from 13 March 2020 to take up a post as Vice-Chancellor of The University of Auckland. On behalf of the Senate, I thank her for her service to the University, both as Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, charged with responsibility for the difficult task of restructuring, and as Vice-Chancellor. Among many other things, she led the development of UWA 2030, the Strategic Plan 2020-2025 and the Campus Master Plan. During her term the University entered into significant global and national partnerships and established the UWA Public Policy Institute. She has enhanced the profile of the University nationally, being the first woman to Chair the Group of Eight Universities—an office which she will complete in February 2020.
In December 2019, the Senate announced the appointment of Professor Freshwater’s successor, Professor Amit Chakma, who will take up his office in July 2020. Professor Chakma brings with him a distinguished record of leadership and experience as Vice-Chancellor and President of WesternUniversity in Canada for 10 years and, before that, as Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Waterloo. The Senate has also announced the appointment of Professor Jane den Hollander, recently retired Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University, as Interim Vice Chancellor from March to July 2020.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Senior Executive of the University, the Executive Deans of the Faculties,the Heads of Schools, the academic and professional staff and the student leadership for their commitment andcontribution to realising the immense promise and potential of The University of Western Australia.
The Hon Robert French AC CitWA
Postscript: In common with the University sector throughout Australia the University of Western Australia sought to address and mitigate the impact of the Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the latter part of 2019. The University worked with the Federal Government and relevant agencies to understand this dynamic and complex issue while doing all it could to minimise risk to the health and wellbeing of our staff and students and minimise disruption in the delivery of courses particularly to overseas students who have been delayed in entering Australia. The executive and academic leadership of the University have been closely involved in the development of our response and I thank them all for their considerable efforts so far.