2008 began with UNE’s first intake of medical students an epoch-making event that set the tone for a year of achievement at the University. UNE’s School of Rural Medicine, officially opened in July 2008 by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard MP, is UNE’s part of the Joint Medical Program an expansion of the highly successful University of Newcastle medical program in partnership with UNE, Hunter New England Health, and Northern Sydney Central Coast Health.
During Ms Gillard’s visit in July, she also officially opened the new building housing the Oorala Aboriginal Centre the educational advisory centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at UNE and the Dixson Library’s Learning Commons, which provides physical and electronic infrastructure for both distance-education and on-campus students.
The 61 first-year students in UNE’s Bachelor of Medicine program impressed their teachers and professional mentors with their application to their studies and to extra-curricular activities such as the Anatomy Club. In July, the 2006 Australian of the Year, Professor Ian Frazer, accepted an invitation from the UNE Medical Society to be the guest speaker at the Society’s first official function.
Several other new undergraduate courses introduced in 2008 like the Bachelor of Medicine program have a special focus on preparing graduates for work in rural and regional areas. These include programs leading to Bachelor of Criminology and Bachelor of Engineering Technology degrees.
In February, the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, visited UNE to launch a new phase in the life of the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (PIIC), a collaborative venture between his Department and the University. On that occasion Mr Macdonald announced the appointment of Professor Bob Martin as the first full-time Director of the PIIC, and the establishment of a National Centre for Rural Greenhouse Gas Research within the UNE-based PIIC. Professor Martin is leading a collaborative project, with $1.17 million funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), aimed at reducing poverty in north-western Cambodia by enhancing the production and marketing of maize and soybeans.
UNE’s Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law, under the directorship of Professor Paul Martin, published the results of several important studies during the year. These included a study titled Concepts for Private Sector Funded Conservation Using Tax-effective Instruments and a report explaining why the benefits expected from Australia’s National Water Initiative are not being fully realised.
Important national and international conferences hosted by UNE in 2008 have included the 28th Annual Seminar of the International Society for Teacher Education, with delegates from Uganda, Kiribati, Bhutan, Kuwait, East Timor, Brazil, Chile, South Africa and the United States, and the 35th annual conference of the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour, hosted by UNE’s Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour and organised by Professor Gisela Kaplan.
Senior Lecturer Dr Terrence Hays was artistic director of two national music events: the inaugural Australasian Piano Summer School for talented young in pianists in their senior years at high school was held at UNE in January, and the second biennial Australian National Seniors’ Choral Festival was held in Sydney. The Choral Festival is a joint project of UNE, the University of Sydney, and the Conservatorium High School, Sydney.
UNE continued to strengthen its international links, developing and expanding partnerships with major tertiary institutions in Vietnam and Thailand, and welcoming to UNE a group of nurses from Chandigarh in the Indian State of Punjab who are the first students to undertake UNE’s new Bachelor of Professional Nursing degree program. In April the University welcomed 18 leaders or potential leaders in the field of teacher education whose four-week visit to UNE was funded by Australian Leadership (ALA) Awards, a Commonwealth Government AusAID program. The ALA Fellows were from Bhutan, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
In another productive year for the three national Cooperative Research Centres based at UNE (those assisting the beef, sheep and poultry industries), the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Poultry CRC, Professor Mingan Choct, became the first Australian to present the important Robert Fraser Gordon Memorial Lecture at the annual conference of the British Society of Animal Science and receive the associated Gordon Memorial Medal.
In sport, UNE won a gold medal (in lawn bowls), a silver medal (in Rugby Sevens) and two bronze medals (in lawn bowls and athletics) at the Australian University Games in October. Jacqui Lawrence, who graduated from UNE in 2005 with a First Class Honours degree in Natural Resources, won a silver medal in her kayaking event at the Beijing Olympics.
The University maintained its unequalled record in the Good Universities Guide for 2009 in being once again awarded the Guide‘s maximum rating of “five stars” for “overall graduate satisfaction”. UNE also received “five-star” ratings for “teaching quality”, “access by equity groups”, “Indigenous participation”, “entry flexibility”, and “staff qualifications”.
Outstanding contributions to the learning experience of students by members of staff at UNE once again received national recognition through the annual Citations of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC formerly the Carrick Institute). This year, seven Citations went to individuals and groups at UNE, taking the total number won by UNE staff members since the awards began in 2006 to 25.
2008 was a year of anniversaries and reunions which included events celebrating the 80th anniversary of Armidale Teachers’ College, the 50th anniversary of Mary White College, and the 70th anniversary of New England University College (the precursor of UNE). At a 70th anniversary dinner at Parliament House, Sydney, in November, attended by the Governor of NSW, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, the guest speaker was one of UNE’s most distinguished graduates, Dr Bridget Ogilvie AC DBE. Dr Ogilvie, a world-renowned medical scientist and Fellow of The Royal Society, was the first student in UNE’s Bachelor of Rural Science (Honours) degree program to graduate with University Medal.
In October, family members of foundation lecturers at the New England University College, and lecturers from the College’s early days, were among the guests at the opening of an exhibition mounted in UNE’s Dixson Library illustrating the home lives of those first families. This event and the exhibition itself documented the “community” that the College developed and that the University has fostered.