Dear Colleagues,

I hope you have taken time during this week, National Reconciliation Week, to reflect on our collective accountability to find the rightly deserved and just place for Indigenous Australians in our society.

I believe the path towards reconciliation begins with curiosity about our First Nations people’s vision of the world. And their lived experience. On Monday, I was fortunate enough to attend a panel discussion at which UOW’s indigenous staff and community shared their lived experiences.¬†Their strength and courage deeply inspired me.

Their stories, along with the briefing I received last week about the implementation of UOW’s Reconciliation Action Plan, have reinforced my commitment to ensuring that our campuses are places that welcome and celebrate the diversity of First Nations people and meaningfully advance reconciliation through action.

This week was also my first opportunity to catch up with, learn from, and share insights with the sector’s leaders at the annual Universities Australia Conference. Unsurprisingly, much of the discussion focused on the dramatic impact COVID-19 has had on the world and how universities can continue to work closely and constructively to facilitate the rebuilding of our communities and sector.

In the short term, be assured that UOW, along with the sector, continues to work with the state and federal government to devise plans for the safe return of the many thousands of our international students who are offshore and who have had their studies significantly disrupted by COVID-19.

In the longer term, while financial circumstances will remain a genuine challenge, we have the tools and people power to adapt and pivot. We are already adapting by reassessing our priorities and doubling down on our purpose to educate and produce knowledge that contributes to a prosperous society and economy.

You may have noticed that the 2020 annual reports for NSW universities were tabled in the NSW Parliament late last week. Our finance team is now carefully reviewing the publicly available information to compare and assess UOW’s performance to others across the sector. I am keen to understand what we have done well and identify opportunities from actions undertaken by other institutions that could assist us in our recovery from the pandemic. More information to come.

In the Illawarra Mercury yesterday and recent months on social media, there have been complaints and allegations about sexual assault and sexual harassment among students in UOW Accommodation. We are treating these allegations with the greatest seriousness and are actively engaged in addressing issues. However, I believe this matter is a whole of the University community issue and needs all UOW staff to drive change. We should all be committed to doing what we can to prevent incidents from occurring and ensuring that students and staff can access the support and help they need. Please remind your teams and colleagues of the resources to respond appropriately in these instances. Please urge students who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment to contact the University and access the support services available. Those support services are available regardless of where a student is living or where the incident occurred.

You would have been hard-pressed to miss media coverage this week about the latest lockdown in Victoria and the current pace of the vaccine rollout. These were discussion topics at the live broadcast of ABC’s Q&A, which broadcast from Wollongong last night and which I attended. It was great to have Q&A in Wollongong and I was so impressed and inspired by many of our local high school students. I was keen to tell them why the University of Wollongong is a great place to study.

Worryingly, new data reveals Australia is rapidly falling further behind with its COVID-19 vaccine take-up, even though science tells us it is the most important measure we can take to reduce the health and economic risks of future outbreaks. I have observed and understand that misinformation or sensationalist media reporting may have created some community trepidation and hesitancy. I urge you to talk to your friends and families about sourcing reliable information about vaccination based on fact and registering to get your vaccine as soon as your turn comes.

To end the week on a high note, I want to congratulate coach Brian Goorjian and the Illawarra Hawks. The team’s effort and intensity showed on Tuesday night to beat the Perth Wildcats and secure a place in the National Basketball League playoffs for the first time since 2017 was thrilling to watch.

Thank you for all your work this week. I hope you have a great weekend.