O-Week, Term 1 2022: Vice-Chancellor's welcome to undergraduates

This is the text of Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs' welcome to UNSW Sydney undergraduate students, given during O-Week for Term 1 2022.

I’d like to start by paying my respects to Bidjigal people. It’s on their ancestral lands that UNSW now stands. I also pay our respects to elders past and present, as the traditional custodians of knowledge for this place.

And to all of you here today, or if you’re joining us online in Australia or overseas – or at one of the big screens around campus – I say, 'Welcome'!

Welcome to UNSW and welcome to the start of a very exciting time in your life.

This is a milestone for all of us because it’s also my first O-Week as Vice-Chancellor of UNSW.

I once sat where you are – quite literally. I studied here at UNSW and graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Chemistry.

My father was a professor at UNSW so I knew from quite a young age that UNSW was the university for me.

In fact, my mother, two brothers and my sister are all UNSW alumni and it will be a tense Christmas this year if I don’t take good care of their beloved university.

My father loved O-Week and would set up spectacular science experiments, to entertain the new students and make them feel they belonged here from day one.


I can tell you that you have made a very wise choice to come here.

It is a world-class university – one of the top 50 globally.

You’ll get the best education from the greatest academics and be well supported through your studies by wonderful professional staff.

If I sound a bit biased, it’s because I really had a fantastic experience here.

The skills and knowledge I gained, alongside the strong sense of purpose in what I was doing, set me up to grasp all the opportunities that came my way.

And just like you, I kicked off my time at UNSW with O-Week.

Some of the student organisers I met last week told me that this is the largest O-Week in the southern hemisphere, so make sure you get involved in lots of the activities on offer so you can get to know the university and your peers.

Also get to know the history of UNSW because it gives you an idea of why we are quite unique among Australian universities.

You might also be interested in the part of our history called Foundation Day – known for some unusual activities.

Over the decades there’s been everything from bands in the quad, to pram races and parades around the city, to scavenger hunts, and even an alligator on campus that was ‘borrowed’ from Taronga Zoo.

I recall one of the years I was here, students faked a meteorite landing on the beach at La Perouse. Given it was UNSW Engineering students, I’m sure the 2m x 3m crater was structurally sound.

Nonetheless, the Police Commissioner was rightly annoyed at the diversion of emergency services and threatened the university with a $20,000 fine. So, no faked meteorite landings!

There was much less fuss over the bogus census forms distributed in the eastern suburbs that year, which asked nationally important questions like ‘do you have a cat?’.

My Industrial Chemistry class was likely to do something much more practical, like stay up all night brewing innovative and tasty beers to win one of the UNSW Beer Appreciation society’s biannual competitions. This is what is known as 'applied science'.


Now, we want you to have fun on campus, but we also want you to be safe.

Part of that is knowing the Student Code of Conduct which sets out the behaviour we expect of you, and the behaviour you have the right to expect of others.

UNSW is a safe, tolerant and respectful place, because everyone here – students and staff – shares the responsibility to make it a safe, tolerant and respectful place.

You, as the newest members of our wonderful community, now carry that responsibility and I ask you to be mindful of that.

So, look after yourself and each other.

Ask for help when you need it. We have great programs and really caring people here to help you if things get a little overwhelming.

And as far as life during the pandemic, we are moving this term to safely reactivate the campus, to get back to a dynamic physical community here on campus.

We continue to take a health-based approach to a COVID-safe UNSW, to ensure your health and wellbeing.

So, I ask you to keep wearing masks when you’re indoors, maintain physical distancing and scan QR codes wherever needed. And please, don’t come to campus if you’re unwell.


I Imagine you have come to UNSW to follow your dream. And I again congratulate you all on being accepted to this brilliant university.

I was VC of UTS before coming ‘home’ to UNSW and I know it has not been an easy couple of years for school leavers and university students.

I applaud your adaptability, and admire the dedication that enabled you to drive through all the challenges.

You’re here because you have applied yourself and shown incredible resilience, and often because people have believed in you – and it’s nice to see some of them here with you today. I’m sure they’re beaming with pride behind those masks.

I have every confidence that you’ll make the most of any changes or challenges that may lie ahead of you, and will continue to embrace new ways of studying.


I want to share with you aspects of UNSW that most resonate with me.

First of all, universities are incredibly special and hold a distinctive place in the community.

Public universities exist solely as a public good. We’re here for all of society – not just those who pass through our doors – and this is a core tenet of UNSW’s mission.

I mentioned the history of UNSW earlier. It began as the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts in 1833, then became the Sydney Technical College in 1878 before becoming a university in 1949.

And the reason for each change has been in response to what society needed at that particular time. To me, that is exactly what a university should do.

At UNSW we excel in education and research and, underlying that, is a mission to support society.

Just look at our motto – Scientia Corde, Manu et Mente. Knowledge by Heart, Hand and Mind.

They are the ideals we espouse at UNSW, to have compassion, to seek practical solutions to society’s problems and to carry out our work with intellectual rigour.

Right now, much of our focus is on helping Australia recover from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, and to deal with the existential threat of climate change. Two challenges of epic proportions.


The second aspect is the entrepreneurial and innovative culture across UNSW.

As some traditional industries are disappearing, so we must nurture the entrepreneurship that will create new, sustainable ones.

These are the businesses and industries that will generate jobs you may fill over the many careers you are sure to have during your lifetime.

And we, UNSW, need to teach the new skills that will prepare you for those jobs.

UNSW students have an exceptional reputation with employers, and I am deeply committed to further elevating that standing.

But more, we have incredible opportunities in our entrepreneurship and innovation programs and extracurricular activities and so I strongly encourage you to take part in them now, during your studies, should you choose.


And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we can’t just talk about what we want to do or how we want to change society. We have to demonstrate it.

If we want to make the world a better place, then we must be an exemplar of social justice, tolerance, and inclusion; and of new ways of working, of innovation and of excellence. Because if not us, who?

You are now part of this university and community and so I urge you take the opportunities presented – and there are a plethora of opportunities, clubs and initiatives for you to get involved in to have real and positive impact right now.

Finally, UNSW has always been deeply connected to business and industry and we have one of the most extensive work integrated learning opportunities in the country so I again urge to you to take advantage of all UNSW has on offer.


OK. That’s enough from me.

In closing, I’ll leave you with these thoughts.

Be open to new ideas. Ask lots of questions. Think critically. And be curious.

If you remember one thing from what I’ve said today, it is ‘get involved’. University life is so much more than just your course.

Join a club. Volunteer. Connect with your peers either in person or online. Grab a free sausage sandwich – if you’re online, I’m afraid you’ll have to make one for yourself.


Have a great week, a great term and a great year.

And if you see me around campus, please come and say hello.