Strategy Eight (August 2012 update)

Develop a small number of major cross-disciplinary initiatives in research and education

To have visible impact in addressing the complex problems facing our nation and our world, we must harness relevant intellectual resources from across the University and provide structures for cross-disciplinary research and education at the University level.

Our aim is to create an environment that promotes and facilitates cross-disciplinary collaborations of high social impact, through targeted and transparent investment in visionary research and education initiatives.


Work to establish the Charles Perkins Centre is already serving as a guide in the effective design of governance and financial arrangements for other new University-wide research and education programs.

8(a) Establish the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease as an exemplar of a major program of cross-disciplinary research and education in an area of high social impact.

The Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease, the largest of the new multidisciplinary University-wide centres, has been formally established as the Charles Perkins Centre (CPC) and an academic director appointed. Research and education strategies are under development, and construction of the centre building is underway. Under the University’s new management governance arrangements (see strategy 1), the CPC’s board of governance is a committee of SEG with representation from across the University’s divisions.

A joint project group from the CPC, the Brain and Mind Research Institute and Corporate Finance are developing proposals for the centre’s operating framework, based on the University Economic Model. The framework includes a set of common principles to underpin formal mechanisms that will support and encourage collaboration for all future multidisciplinary/multi-faculty centres.

8(b) Develop governance and financial arrangements for University-wide research and education programs based on the lessons learned from the establishment of the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.

The agreed governance and operational models for the CPC described under 8(a) will become the model for other whole-of-University multidisciplinary centres to support effective governance, operational and collaborative agreements that promote confidence and trust in decision-making processes, resource allocation, and contributions to and credit for research outcomes. Supporting underlying principles will cover areas that include providing for a return on investment, ongoing support and incentives for collaboration.

8(c) Develop criteria and processes to identify, support and maintain strategic and University-supported research and education initiatives.

See under strategy 6 for progress towards greater alignment of research strategies at a faculty, divisional and University level. See under strategy 3 for progress towards establishing principles and processes to support University-wide curriculum reform.

8(d) Evaluate existing University-wide and University-supported research and education projects, including the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and refine and strengthen the University Centres Policy.

Under continued implementation of the Centres Policy, which aims to control the proliferation of new centres and not to renew existing centres that are no longer delivering value, 14 centres have been closed over the last two years. Eight multidisciplinary centres – including the China Studies Centre and the South-East Asia Centre – have been created so far during this period (see initiative 8(e)).

Discussions about the future of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions are ongoing with a view to determining the best approach to supporting the University’s diverse interests in sustainability.

8(e) Establish University-wide centres for education and research on China and South-East Asia Studies, as recommended in the Review of Area Studies, and implement the other recommendations of that review.

The China Studies Centre is now fully operational, and the University has appointed a director and academic director. SEG approved the creation of a South-East Asia Centre in April 2012; an interim director has been appointed and seed funding provided to initiate key activities. In addition, in light of the key recommendation of the Area Studies Review that we create a limited number of networks of area specialists to assess whether we might create centres in the future, we have created a network of South Asia specialists.

8(f) Determine the feasibility of up to two new major cross-disciplinary programs of research and education.

The new Sydney Research Networks Scheme (SyReNs) provides support to a small number of themed research groups, so we can enable new cross-disciplinary initiatives to develop and grow rather than take a ‘picking winners’ approach. To receive SyReNs funding, applicants must demonstrate potential for the creation over time of a medium- to large-scale, cross-divisional, multidisciplinary initiative in research and research training. Six SyReNs projects are currently receiving support in areas covering social justice and human rights; energy storage; climate change and society; infectious disease and biosecurity; health and work; and learning, technology and knowledge in action.

In parallel, we are developing two new cross-disciplinary programs of education: the Master of Sustainability and the Master of Studies.

The Master of Sustainability, developed with significant industry input, aims to produce sustainability professionals who can combine their discipline-specific skills with an understanding of the scientific, technological, commercial, legal, governmental and societal aspects of sustainability. Experts across the University work together to deliver the program, along with leading industrial practitioners. In collaboration with industry, government or non-governmental organisations, students undertake a research capstone experience that focuses on a current sustainability problem.

The Master of Studies (initially hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) will allow the University to provide a distinctive master’s pathway for what we know is a substantial number of people looking to concurrently upgrade their professional skills while deepening and broadening their intellectual development. So, for example, students would be able to combine study in a professional subject area (eg Media Practice or Development Studies), with the study of history or a language. We anticipate that units of study from faculties including Sydney Law School and the Business School might be added in due course as the framework for the degree is developed and the fee structure finalised. We expect to launch in 2014.

8(g) Create for each major cross-disciplinary program of research and education a strategy for implementation in the University community which embodies and exemplifies the program’s core purpose in our institutional life.

To translate the Charles Perkins Centre’s activity into the everyday life of the University, we are introducing a Sydney Healthy University Initiative through collaboration across the University. A network of flagship projects and a three-year strategic and implementation plan are currently under development and are due to be considered by SEG in September 2012.

Examples of achievements to date include a partnership with Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food to run open-air classes on cooking healthy meals in front of the Quadrangle for hundreds of staff, students and other members of the University community (including students from the Compass program, see initiative 11(a)). We also offered enrolling students the opportunity to have their health assessed for a ‘health passport’ in orientation week 2012. The initiative is supported by the implementation in early 2012 of a new Senate-initiated policy that restricts on-campus smoking and purchase of tobacco.