2010: a year of consolidation and renewal at UNE

Published 24 December 2010

booloominbah2010, a year of consolidation and renewal for UNE, began with the arrival of a new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jim Barber, at the beginning of February.

Professor Barber’s first official function as Vice-Chancellor was at an event characteristic of that consolidation and renewal: the opening of a new, state-of-the-art greenhouse complex for research and teaching within the School of Environmental and Rural Science. The complex includes 25 separate rooms, in each of which temperature and watering can be controlled independently. Research using the new greenhouse facilities is already contributing to national programs – particularly in relation to climate change.

The year ended with a related event: the opening of new laboratories for research into reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. The “UNE Carbon and Climate Change Research and Learning Facility” is the new home of the UNE-based National Centre for Rural Greenhouse Gas Research – a joint venture between UNE and Industry & Investment NSW – launched in 2009. The Centre is an “offspring” of the Primary Industries Innovation Centre, which is also based at UNE.

The development of collaborative arrangements – with other universities as well as with government and industry – was a major theme for the year, which saw the signing of important agreements with educational institutions both in Australia and abroad. In October Professor Barber and the Chancellor, Dr Richard Torbay, signed Memoranda of Understanding with the University of Sydney, the University of Western Sydney, and TAFE NSW establishing collaborative arrangements aimed at giving more students access to higher education. “While each agreement is unique,” Professor Barber said, “collectively they promote a more inclusive, flexible and responsive higher education environment: one where universities serve the national interest through collaboration rather than dog-eat-dog competition.”

The signing of an agreement with China’s Henan Agricultural University (HAU) in November was one of several agreements with overseas universities ratified during the year. The comprehensive agreement with HAU will enable students who have completed a diploma program or two or three years of a degree program at HAU to complete a UNE degree – with advanced standing – in the areas of accounting, business, biotechnology and molecular genetics, environmental science, animal science, agriculture, and agricultural and resource economics. UNE is currently teaching students from seven Chinese educational institutions through advanced standing and cooperation agreements.

In March Professor Barber officially launched a project – “DEHub” – representative of another aspect of UNE’s collaborative activities.”DEHub” is a collaborative research project that is paving the way for 21st century developments in distance education. The project, funded by the Commonwealth Government and led by UNE, also involves Charles Sturt University, CQUniversity, the University of Southern Queensland, and New Zealand’s Massey University. Together, these universities form a “hub” of research-based expertise on new developments in distance education practice. Professor Barber said that DEHub was “at the forefront of research and development behind a global educational movement towards distance education”.

Semester 1 ushered in some important new degree courses, including three Bachelor’s degree programs in the field of sport and exercise science, and a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree program. The introduction of these new health/medicine-related courses, capitalising on UNE’s expertise in physiology and biochemistry, followed the successful introduction of the Bachelor of Medicine program conducted in partnership with the University of Newcastle and now at the end of its third year.

The University continued – and consolidated – its productive relationships with the wider Armidale and New England communities through a range of public events. One of the most popular of those events, the annual UNE Schools Acquisitive Art Prize competition and “Let’s Hang It!” exhibition, was held in June – for the seventh successive year – at the New England Regional Art Museum. The competition attracted about 500 entries from 35 schools in 17 towns and cities throughout northern NSW.

For the second successive year, UNE was the major sponsor of Armidale’s annual Sustainable Living Expo (SLEX). Eleven experts from UNE spoke to SLEX audiences about their research in fields related to conservation and sustainability, and the University – which was recognised by the NSW Government in this year’s Green Globe Awards for its commitment to sustainability – was able to demonstrate aspects of that commitment.

While looking ahead and planning for the deregulated higher-education environment to emerge in 2012, the University continues to treasure and build on its proud traditions of excellence in scholarship and its unrivalled reputation for “overall student satisfaction”.

In October, one of the oldest community radio stations in Australia, UNE’s student-run TUNE! FM, celebrated its 40th anniversary of continuous broadcasting. The celebration included the official opening of new studios, from which TUNE! FM began broadcasting in August.  The Chancellor, Richard Torbay, speaking at the event, said that the station, which provides student volunteers with radio industry training, had “touched many lives”.

Another event that marked the 21st-century continuation of a long-standing tradition was the arrival at UNE of Dr Randall Pogorzelski, UNE’s first Charles Tesoriero Lecturer in Latin. During a function in November to welcome him, Professor Barber pointed out that Latin was one of the “foundation disciplines” of the University, and said he hoped that the lectureship, established through a bequest by Dr Charles Tesoriero, would be the “cornerstone of world-wide initiatives in teaching Latin”.

UNE has taught geology and conducted research on the geology of the New England region ever since 1939 – the year after its foundation as New England University College. In November, an international conference and reunion of staff members and graduates in Geology at UNE celebrated 70 years of that research. The 160 participants in the “New England Orogen 2010” conference included the institution’s first Honours graduate in geology, Dr Ken Williams, and its first Doctor of Philosophy in geology, Professor Keith Crook. The first day of the conference was a “Tectonics Symposium”, devoted to papers on the formation of the region of tectonic upheaval known as the New England Orogen. The symposium honoured the significant contribution of the UNE geologist Professor Peter Flood to an understanding of that phenomenon.