Vice-Chancellor's Report

A year full of promise

Dr Michael Spence

I’d like to begin my first column for the year on a personal note. The death of my wife after a very short illness just before Christmas was an enormous shock for my family and me. We have been comforted and deeply touched by the many messages of support, and indeed love, from across the wide university community.

Let me take this opportunity to thank those many members of our alumni family who sent condolence. Of course, during this experience, I saw again the skill and dedication of the staff of our hospital system and was proud to lead a University that plays such an important role in it.

Some things remain constant: the rhythm of the University is a reminder of the many good things in life, and its achievements are a source of solace and pride. And so it gives me great pleasure to report that this year has begun on a really positive footing, continuing some excellent results achieved last year.

Once again, more New South Wales school leavers chose to come to our University than to any other in the state. This has been a continuing trend for a number of years and is very heartening in a highly competitive market where the number of undergraduate places across the sector is now uncapped.

The strong demand for places reflects interest across a broad range of our course offerings. As well as traditionally high demand areas like law and medicine, it has been pleasing to see increased interest in arts, business, education and a wide range of health-related courses in nursing, pharmacy and health sciences. Our Dean of Nursing, Professor Jill White AM, says this trend reflects a desire among many young people to give something back to the community, which gives the lie to the myth that gen Y is selfish and only focused on the money! It has also been heartening to see a growth in applications from international students after the last two years where the market has been tight.

Further evidence of the strength of the University was published late last year by the Australian Research Council in their study of the quality of research across 41 Australian universities. The independent Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) analysis confirmed that Sydney is among the top universities in the nation based on the breadth and depth of our research performance.

"All areas of our research were rated at or above world standard, with the vast majority being above or well above world standard."

For ERA 2012 all areas of our research were rated at or above world standard, with the vast majority being above or well above world standard. We received the maximum score, indicating research was well-above world standard, in nine diverse disciplines: mathematical science; agriculture and veterinary sciences; engineering; medical and health sciences; psychology and cognitive sciences; law and legal studies; language communication and culture; history and archaeology; and philosophy and religious studies. This is a splendid outcome which reflects on the excellent work by our dedicated researchers and our research portfolio, and confirms our strategic priorities.

Our collaborative research strategy has caught the imagination of some very generous benefactors. For the second consecutive year, the University of Sydney has generated more philanthropic support than any other Australian university and by a sizeable margin. Last year the number of donors supporting the University grew by a staggering 16 percent – the largest single increase we’ve experienced. With your wonderful support we raised just over $80 million.

More than 10,000 individual donors were generous enough to give to the University last year. Most don’t make the headlines, but the extraordinarily far sighted and transformational gift from leading engineering alumnus John Grill simply could not be ignored (see separate story page 28). We have set ourselves ambitious targets for the years ahead and will soon be releasing details of our forthcoming fundraising campaign.

The coming year will be an important one in a number of ways. In a federal election year our challenge is to keep the major parties aware of the importance of universities to the Australian economy and the need for better support both for research and education. Internally we have a number of major projects underway including plans for increased student accommodation on or adjacent to our campuses, continued progress on the exciting new Charles Perkins Centre and the implementation of significant improvements to our student administration system.

I look forward to bringing you news of our further successes throughout the year.