Address at the UNSW Celebration of Research Excellence

Thank you, Bernie. In welcoming you, I would like to pay my respects to the Bedegal people, the traditional custodians of this land, and to Elders both past and present. I also extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be present here today.

At this point I would usually single out a few distinguished guests but when you are in the midst of an entire audience of distinguished guests, it is best to err on the side of caution and just say – welcome, all.

It is right that we celebrate the research excellence that has been driven by the individual and collective experience and intellect in this room this evening. And, I will make the prediction that, over many years to come, we will also be celebrating the research excellence of our new SHARP academics.

The research represented at this event is by no means an exhaustive list of the excellent work being carried out at UNSW. We would have to move to a bigger venue to capture it all. Just to give you an idea of the breadth and depth of what we are celebrating, in 2017 alone, 398 of our researchers were successful in receiving competitive grants – some more than one – with 530 grants in all. The total amount of funding awarded was more than $242 million and all nine faculties were involved in the achievement.

We celebrate the six highly-cited researchers who rank amongst the top 1% of researchers worldwide by citations for field and publication year. We celebrate 22 UNSW Fellows of the Australian Learned academies drawn from the worlds of Health and Medical Science; Humanities, Social Sciences; Technology and Engineering; and Law. From just 17 prestigious Laureates awarded nationally, two went to UNSW Professors – Jill Bennett from the National Institute for Experimental Arts and Fedor Sukochev from the School of Mathematics and Statistics – whom we’ll hear from shortly.

And, in just a few other highlights, UNSW:

• received the highest Program Grant awarded in Australia. The grant is worth $24M and was awarded through The George Institute to Professor Bruce Neal
• we topped ARC Discovery Projects, with the highest awarded nationally for the second year in a row
• received over $50M in ARC funding and over $85M in NHMRC funding
• received a further $95 million in funding for 481 projects in contract research,
• and –in 2017 alone – our researchers contributed to 10,000 research outputs, including NTROs.

Add to that more than 27 national and state-based awards and medals and international recognition – as well as the Grand Challenges program here on campus running 65 events and projects – and you can see just how much we have to celebrate.

There is great research being done here at UNSW and with our partners at other universities in Australia and abroad, and with industry. But, as I’ve written about recently, there is so much more we could do if we had a new approach to Government funding.

The centre of gravity in most publicly-funded research institutions is at the discovery end of the research pipeline. While, at the other end, there is lucrative commercialisation being done by industry. We need to bridge the translational research gap at the university-industry interface to really drive nationally important projects – those that contribute to the wellbeing of the community as well as generate enormous returns for our economy.

I have been working with my Go8 colleagues on a new, two-pronged approach to Government research funding to incentivise collaboration between industry and the university sector.

One element is a collaboration premium additional to the R&D tax incentive if industry collaborates with universities. The other element is a future fund to complement the work of the ARC – much like the Medical Research Future Fund which helps translate the research funded by the NHMRC. The rationale for this two-pronged approach is to push industry towards universities through the collaboration premium and pull us towards industry through the future fund.

It is my hope that this approach will give the great research being done here at UNSW – and across Australia – a clearer path along the full length of the research pipeline in the future.

This evening though, we celebrate what has already been achieved. We thank the 129 individual sponsors who contributed to UNSW’s research excellence success. But, most importantly, we congratulate the great researchers and their teams on richly deserved recognition.

It is a source of great pride for the entire UNSW community.

Check against delivery