Dear Colleagues,

I can’t recall such a busy start to a new year. Staff in many parts of the University and, in particular, in our regional campuses have been hard at work throughout this period.

Our staff made a massive contribution to helping locals, tourists and some of our most vulnerable citizens in the recent bushfires.  Thank you to all the staff in our Bega, Batemans Bay, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands campuses for all your many and special efforts on behalf of our communities.  Here in Wollongong, many staff from across the professional services divisions have provided support in finance, human resources, IT services and enterprise development.  Staff and the families of many students have been severely affected by the fires and the aftermath of these events will require all of us to work collectively to help as we can.  To this end, I am very pleased to announce that the generosity of UOW staff raised $82,975 towards bushfire relief, which the University matched to raise a total of $165,950 for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

The University’s crisis management team did a great job in helping coordinate our response to the bushfires.  At the same time, the team has had to deal with the implications of the novel coronavirus epidemic which began to gather momentum in the second half of January.  The decision of the Commonwealth’s National Security Council Committee of Cabinet, on the advice of public health experts, to prohibit the movement of citizens out of China has had a widespread effect on Australia’s universities.  Some staff and many of our students remain stranded in China.  University staff have been working extremely hard and examining the most effective way to communicate with our students to provide them reassurance, and engaging with Commonwealth and State governments to convey the full implications of this epidemic.

The autumn session for 2020 starts today.  This year’s recruitment cycle for domestic students, once again, has been very competitive as some universities have adjusted entry standards to secure volume.  The international market was tracking very strongly until the volatility caused by the viral epidemic hit.  We estimate that UOW has enrolled 7,100 new students and 16,130 continuing students, excluding around 1,000 students who are still in China.  Overall these numbers are solid and could have been outstanding without the uncertainty caused by the virus.  To all those staff who have worked tirelessly over the recruitment cycle, thank you for all of your efforts.

The financial results for 2019 are still subject to final audit.  The interim results show that the University had a very soft year in hitting the surplus target, driven by unexpected factors in the final quarter of the year.  All the other financial targets were met.  2020 will be an exceptionally tight year, given the impact of external events on international recruitment and the ongoing constraints to the growth of Commonwealth places.

Council met on 14 February and approved the University’s capital budget for the period 2020-24.  Council also examined the University’s achievements and work in 2019.  You can find the full stocktake report at: https://intranet.uow.edu.au/spu/publications/index.html

A number of new initiatives are well developed.  Molecular Horizons has been handed over to the University and is a wonderful asset of international significance.  Building 29 on the western boundary is now in the fit out stage and should be handed over in May.  Elsewhere our new campuses in Dubai and Penang look great.  Our developments on the Innovation campus and planning for new facilities in Liverpool continue to make progress.

The 2020 year will put a spotlight on a number of plans.  The 2020-2025 Strategic Plan was launched on 12 February (see:  https://www.uow.edu.au/about/our-vision-strategy/2020-2025-strategic-plan/).  Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Joe Chicharo will establish a new process to drive the whole-of-institution implementation of this plan.  Other important initiatives include the activation of the University’s reconciliation action plan, our online learning initiative, the implementation of the Graduate School Review and the release of a new research strategy.

In March UOW is hosting the annual meeting of the University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) and this conference will bring colleagues from San Paolo, North Carolina and Surrey to Wollongong.

Higher education policy will continue to be in the spotlight.  We should anticipate initiatives in the Commonwealth Budget in May as the Government picks up the findings of various reviews. In addition, the State and Commonwealth Governments will both place considerable emphasis on the recovery and renewal of communities damaged by the bushfires.  Some of these may be longer term ideas requiring contributions from the higher education sector.

To all of our new staff joining us in the 2020 academic year: Welcome.

I am looking forward to hearing about the work of our faculties and divisions and the many wonderful achievements by UOW and our students throughout 2020.

Professor Paul Wellings CBE
Vice-Chancellor