SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you so very much Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen, to Chancellor Paul Jeans, to my many Parliamentary colleagues who are here including the Shadow Minister Senator Kim Carr, the many alumni of the University of Newcastle amongst those Parliamentary ranks. Ladies and gentlemen, it is wonderful to see a gathering here for a birthday celebration. Birthdays are well worth celebrating, but milestone birthdays especially so and particularly for distinguished institutions like the University of Newcastle. I want to congratulate the University of Newcastle for what has been an outstanding 50 years and what is an exceptional story of transformation from a bushland campus to a university today with 40,000 students on campuses from Sydney to Singapore. To a university, as Caroline was just rightly outlining to us all that stands for both equity and excellence; the two key attributes that we should all hope for in our higher education sector, the two key attributes that must strive, the way we as a government structure our policies and settings in higher education and which should be the values that all of our universities aspire to deliver upon.
The University of Newcastle is clearly an institution that acts as well as speaks when it comes to equity and excellence. The record of enrolments from students of Indigenous background, the record of enrolments of students from low SES backgrounds is an example and is an outstanding accomplishment that the university should be proud of, but importantly, it is not just the enrolment of students that matters, it is the success of those students once they are enrolled and ensuring that they are successful in their studies, successful in creating opportunities for them to go on to further study, to gainful employment, to having productive lives that are richer and more fulfilled because of the university experience they have had at an institution like the University of Newcastle. But they have clearly not sacrificed excellence in the pursuit of equity and that was recognised just recently as the university was identified as number 30 in the world in the Times Higher Education top 100 under 50 category. Of course sadly, in turning 50 now, you’ll no longer be able to be celebrated in that category. But it is a demonstration at this important juncture of the university’s 50th anniversary that the institution is world-recognised as an institution of excellence. In an era in which we have seen many more universities created around the world, much competition amongst younger and newer universities to stand out from the pack and Australia’s younger universities have done exceptionally well in those rankings of young universities just as other, more older establishments rank very well elsewhere around the world.
We have a higher education system and sector that is worth celebrating in Australia. It is one that is founded on principles of equity thanks to the structure of government funding. The fact that under-graduate students need not face up-front fees, that fact that parents cannot and will not be scared away nor students from attending university because of the fee structure and the very generous way in which those fees are re-paid by those students who go on to gainful employment through the tax system. It is a higher education system that equally has delivered great equity and great excellence as well, not just in the outcomes of its students, but in the research findings that are celebrated and are so integral to our government’s innovation agenda and what we hope to see in future is that our universities with appropriate support in terms of their research offering and undertaking and the incentives to partner ever more so with their local industries and local businesses and global businesses as well will be well-placed to drive innovation to ensure that universities adapt themselves and to help create and fulfil not just the aspirations of their students, but to create and help to drive some of the jobs that those students will go to in the future.
I also want to acknowledge in terms of the excellence of the University of Newcastle, Professor Graham Jackson, who was the inaugural recipient of the Prime Minister’s prize for innovation, another indication of the university’s excellence, but excellence beyond its teaching and in to the fields of research and what it will contribute in to the future.
So, congratulations to the University of Newcastle on 50 outstanding years. Every success for 50 more years in which you will adapt and respond to a world that is transforming to a higher education sector that will face ever greater competition from institutions right around the world, to students who will seek to access learning from all different corners by all different mediums which will cause and require you to be innovative and agile yourselves as an institution, but to the contribution I know that you’ll continue to make to the advancement of opportunity for your students and to the creation of greater opportunities for our nation. Congratulations and well done.