White Paper spells out University's future directions

4 August 2010

The future directions of the University of Sydney have been outlined in the White Paper and Strategic Plan 2011-15.

"This document outlines a radical new way of thinking for a university," said Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence.

Dr Spence said the University's very clear sense of purpose was exemplified by its central values of engaged enquiry and mutual accountability which underline all research and teaching activities.

"We view research and teaching together because we believe there should be a seamlessness in the learning of our students and researchers as they work to sharpen their skills in critical thinking and analysis to advance knowledge and understanding.

"Second, while building on the traditional disciplines, we bring them together to solve complex problems in cross-disciplinary education and research", Dr Spence said.

Publication of the White Paper and the Strategic Plan follow 10 months of extensive consultation with staff, students and the wide range of groups in the University community after the earlier Green Paper outlined options and areas for discussion.

The White Paper outlines some significant initiatives including a major reform of the undergraduate generalist degrees so that the first year, in particular, better meets the needs of students.

"We are reinforcing our commitment to putting the student first and will be enhancing the student experience with a radical reorganisation of student administration to create a new ease and seamlessness in the student's relationship with the University from first enquiry to alumni engagement", Dr Spence said.

"Secondly, we are making a more targeted investment in cross disciplinary, collaborative research, working to solve complex social problems."

In particular the establishment of a new University Centre for research and education regarding obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease will set a new standard in cross disciplinary research and education involving almost the whole University.

The purpose-built $390m facility will bring together expertise from the humanities and social sciences, the natural and medical sciences and clinical research to work together on one of the most critical medical issues facing the modern world.

This will be the largest venture of its type ever undertaken by the University, and an exemplar of important cross-disciplinary research and education in an area of high social impact.

Other initiatives will include the building of a $110m facility for nanoscience research which has recently been awarded Commonwealth support and the establishment of University- wide centres for education and research on China and South East Asian Studies.

The third main initiative will be the way the University builds its community links at local, rural and international levels.

The University will also expand its commitment to involvement in China by strengthening its links there, particularly into Western China. Sydney produces more publications co-authored with researchers in China than any other university in Australia, and all but four other universities in the world, and intends those publications to increase.

Fourthly, in a move to build better teaching and research collaboration and to reduce academic and administrative duplication, the University has agreed to new arrangements under which groups of faculties will work together as divisions. This does not involve a merger of faculties. Each faculty will retain its distinct identity and will work together in divisional groups.

The seven divisional groupings are :

  • Arts, Law, Education and Social Work
  • Science, Veterinary Science, Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
  • Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy
  • Architecture, Design and Planning, the Sydney College of the Arts, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music
  • Economics and Business
  • Engineering and Information Technologies
  • Health Sciences

The Vice-Chancellor said "These new arrangements will enable better curriculum development among groups of faculties, greater collaboration and cross disciplinary research, and better financial management and accountability, while allowing each faculty to maintain its individual identity."

In other changes, the discipline of Economics, the Graduate School of Government and the Centre for International Security Studies will move to the renamed Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The former Faculty of Economics and Business will be renamed the School of Business.

The new structure will be supported by the new University Economic Model (UEM) designed to make resource and cost allocation as transparent as possible to both faculties and divisions, so that incentives are maximised to increase income and reduce costs.

Vice-Chancellor Dr Spence said that contrary to some speculative media reports in the Fairfax press, the University had not taken a decision to cut more than 6000 undergraduate places in favour of more lucrative postgraduate and foreign students.

"I do not expect there to be any significant reduction in undergraduate students," the Vice-Chancellor said.

Dr Spence said the University's policy was to allow the mix of students to be determined by disciplinary communities in the University using as their primary criterion the availability of very able students, within the limits allowed by their need to guarantee a mix of different types of student to ensure financial viability.

Quoting the White Paper, he said "we retain the doubts that really significant growth is either possible or desirable. However given the very high quality of our undergraduate student population, we believe it implausible that the University should move to a predominantly postgraduate student mix, though some movement in this direction is desirable".

The University's Strategic Plan says, "We will build a student population profile that is compatible with our statement of purpose and that will ensure our financial viability. We will, in particular, pursue our commitment to the education of the most promising students, drawn from a diversity of social and cultural backgrounds".

Media enquiries: Andrew Potter, 9351 4138, 0414 998 521,