My Story and my vision of China: Interview with President and Vice-Chancellor of UNSW

Born in North London, England in 1957 Professor Ian Jacobs received his higher education in Medicine in Cambridge University and University of London. He is now the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales and the chair of the Group of Eight (Go8). He started his professional life as a doctor, focusing on research and cures for women’s cancer. His achievements in the research area gradually led him into the University World.
After practicing medicine in Royal London Hospital and several other hospitals, Professor Jacobs became the head of the Department of Gynecological Oncology and then Obstetrics and Gynecology at Queen Mary University of London in 1996, he created and directed the UCL Institute for Women’s Health between 2004 and 2009. During his thirty years of research regarding women’s cancer, he gained an H-Index of >70 and has published more than 400 scientific papers.
In 2011, Professor Jacobs became the vice president of the University of Manchester. As the first child in his family to receive a university education, his shift from medical research to university management has always been deeply in his belief in the power of education.
“I've wanted to do things that make a difference to people's lives. Having started out with medicine I reached a conclusion that the most powerful way to have a positive impact on people's lives is through education particularly through higher education,” he said.
Professor Jacobs became the President and Vice-Chancellor of UNSW in Australia in February 2015. With the UNSW 2025 Strategic Plan, he continues to lead the university to improve education and research quality, achieve education innovation, equality and diversity, knowledge transfer as well as global development.
Professor Jacobs went to China for the first time when he was the vice president of the University of Manchester and visited Peking University Medical Centre. He described his first impression of China as “Awesome”.
“The energy, the pace of change, the scale of change, the ability to make things happen very very fast is awesome. My visits are brief, but I get a sense of what is happening and I am amazed by the fact that education is changing the lives of millions of people in China.”
The history of the relationship between UNSW and partners in China goes back a long time. UNSW welcomed its first student from China 40 years ago and now has very strong partnerships with many Chinese universities such as Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
“One of the most exciting opportunities is to develop the first Torch Innovation Precinct outside China at UNSW Sydney,” as Professor Jacobs told us. Witnessed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Australia’s former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the signing ceremony was held between the China Ministry of Science & Technology and UNSW at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2016.
In June 2018, UNSW set up a new office in Shanghai. Both domestic Australian students and Chinese students can now engage in the exciting entrepreneurship start-up cultural setting found in Shanghai. At the same time, Professor Jacobs is also very excited to see many Chinese students that graduated from UNSW have started their careers in various sectors such as health, academics, business as well as government departments in China.
In addition, UNSW also holds many events to celebrate Chinese culture every year such as the “Chinese Language Spectacular”, a Chinese talent show delivered by students from schools and universities in NSW.
“The Chinese Community is an extremely important part of the community of UNSW, and it’s important for them and the university to develop mutual understanding between Chinese people in Australia and Australians in China.”
Talking about the development of higher education in China, Professor Jacobs told us, “I witnessed the rapid development of China as an economy. Whenever I go to China, I see the enormous development of cities and towns. I believe that higher education, training, research, and everything sits around is crucial to make that happen.”
“As the biggest economy in our region and the first or second in scale in the world, China has created a lot of opportunities for us. Therefore, as China is developing so rapidly, we have a role in contributing to education.”
In one of Professor Jacobs’ recent publications with The Australian newspaper, he criticized the negative description of Chinese students and pointed out that Chinese students have contributed a lot to Australian education. He believes that Australia is one of the most exciting places for students to come for university education, with a welcoming culture, a safe social environment, and great educational opportunities. He is looking forward to having more students from China.
At the end of our interview, Professor Jacobs pointed out, “Universities are the new wealth of nations and the key to the prosperity of our two countries, while deeper collaboration and communication between Australia and China would be essential to the development of higher education in both countries.”
“Australia and China don’t have to agree on absolutely everything. I think what we can agree on is that working together on higher education is good for both countries because it needs to be a highly trained workforce who can do both great things for both nations. It leads to trade opportunities; it leads to mutual understanding.”
Originally published here in People’s Daily Online