Partnerships with purpose

Published 28 February 2020

Improving engagement with UNE alumni is high on Professor Aron Murphy's list of priorities for the coming year. In fact, the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Agriculture, Business and Law (SABL) believes it could produce exciting opportunities that benefit society.

"The planet is facing some unprecedented problems, what with the current bushfire crisis and drought in Australia, as well as international issues such as increasing climate variability," Aron says. "Things are changing fast, and wherever there is change and disruption there are opportunities for UNE SABL to contribute. SABL has a lot of the skill sets needed to address these problems, but there may be alumni who are experts in creating and growing new markets or engaging stakeholders to support our work- people who could become part of our knowledge capital and help grow UNE's impact regionally and globally. Such collaborations will shape UNE for a vibrant and engaged future."

Aron is also looking closer to home, to UNE's SMART Region Incubator (SRI) and new Global Agri-Environmental Futures Centre to advance partnerships with government, industry and non-government organisations. "There is an effective pipeline at UNE from the research scientists seeking to address these problems, through to new innovations and solutions, and job creation through the SRI," Aron says."The SRI provides fertile ground for new start-ups to advance technology, and pioneer improvements to farming practices and health care that will help improve the lives of rural and regional Australians. Research that informs future management systems so we are more resilient to change as a community - that's our ultimate goal."

The success of this collaborative approach, which capitalises on the faculty's diverse expertise and strong partnerships, is demonstrated by ongoing research into the effective management of feral cats. Collectively valued at $33 million, this series of projects stretch for the next five years, in partnership with leading organisations including the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

"Feral cats are a major environmental problem that will more likely be solved through trans-disciplinary collaboration," Aron says. "In addition to world-class experts in ecosystem management, we have specialists in animal behaviour and genetics working with software engineers and computer scientists to develop supporting databases and digital infrastructure, and social psychologists who understand how best to encourage the adoption of new practices and policies. Our research is multi-dimensional because it must meet the needs of end users and their communities."

The ambitious aim of the Global Agri-Environmental Futures research is to shape resilient landscapes and communities in the face of climate variability, environmental degradation, urbanisation, water scarcity, fire and bio-security threats. "Agricultural practices are not necessarily keeping pace with the change that we are already experiencing, not to mention what’s yet to come," Aron says. "One way to encourage farmers to take up the outcomes of our research is to listen for their pain points, engage them from the start and work together. We have a collaborative mindset. We're focusing on what we're good at and bringing all partners to the table to develop long-term, sustainable solutions."

As demonstrated by the faculty's Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC), UNE has an enviable track record in being an enterprising partner of choice. "Over the past five years, the AARSC has evolved into a highly committed team delivering outcomes to a large number of industries, and in 2020 we will explore opportunities for international expansion," Aron says. "The global demand for remote sensing education also means we will be developing teaching programs to underline the centre's important work.

"When you close the loop, these partnerships and programs influence our curriculum, and the graduates and alumni who have been informed by this research develop the skills that make them highly employable in a volatile, ever-changing digital world."

In the two years since the SABL faculty was created, Aron says he has thought long and hard about how it "delivers high-quality education, creates knowledge and impact through research, and engages with partners to achieve national and global change".

"UNE's size allows us to be more agile than larger institutions, and our track record of delivering benefits to communities and industries in rural and regional Australia, which scales to global regions, gives us a unique value proposition as a partner," he says. "It's a unique capability of UNE and our faculty that's already starting to become clear. We're becoming a partner of choice."

With innovation comes new learning, too. "We’ve established a new Indigenous First Peoples’ Rights and Law Centre within our Law School that will consolidate other strengths within the faculty," Aron says. "Some nations are well ahead in this regard, and there is a lot for us to learn about these issues globally, but we are drawing expertise from across the university to shine a spotlight on this priority."

How can our alumni engage with researchers in SABL? That is the easy part – get in contact with the faculty through our social networks or email

Faculty homepage.

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