OpinionThe world does need new, and it needs UON

WORLD STAGE: Vice Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen has responded to criticism of the University of Newcastle’s new advertising campaign. Picture: Wayne Taylor


Universities are places where staff work hard to bring knowledge to life in lecture theatres,tutorials, online discussions and practical classes to educate and inspire students from manydifferent backgrounds and parts of the world. When students walk across the stage atgraduation and their families give a grateful cheer – we know that employers across theworld will respect their degree and their University.

None of this is easy – our academic staff have worked for at least 10 years to achieve theirdegrees, doctorates and professional qualifications. They may work in any one of ourcampuses– but their research has to compete on a world stage in a tough environmentwhere ideas, grants and publications are tested and rejected on the road to success.

An important skill for a successful academic is the ability to disagree and challenge existingdogma. If you accept the world as it is today, then you will not change it for tomorrow. Themeasure of a great academic is that they also have the willingness to hold their argumentsup to the test of truth.

Academics can fall into the trap of purveying opinions as alternativetruths and sometimes even as ‘fake news’. I was therefore disappointed this week to readan opinion piece by the President of the NTEU from our University, which fell into that trap.

In his opinion piece, the President of the NTEU:

raised the spectre that the University would pay $25m for a review of ourprofessional staff roles knowing that it would notstated that the review of professional staff is in disarray knowing that it is not, giventhe regular engagement and consultation with the Unionconsidered that senior legal officers should not go on holiday and did not know thatthe University has more than one excellent lawyer, as might be expected in anorganisation with more than 4000 staffwas surprised that our Director of HR would be offered an outstanding job inanother country because of the outstanding quality of her work in a world classuniversitydid not know that the Director of Marketing is still working at UON until she takes upher new position at her family base in Sydney, that she considers UON to be one ofthe top places she has worked at and that UON will be ably supported by a priorDirector of Marketing from a strong University who has already joined us to supportthe period of transitionomitted to mention that the staff survey found over 80% of our staff are satisfiedwith their jobs and believe in the mission of the University, that over 75% arecommitted and intend to stay in the University and that 70% value the rewards andrecognition they receive.It is certainly a matter of opinion, rather than fact, whether we should invest ininforming students about the quality of the staff and work at the University. The cost ofour campaign to let students and staff know how proud we are of the work they do, isequivalent to about 20 students deciding to come to the University. We can certainlydecide not to let students know about us and then be surprised when they go touniversities which are not as good as ours, but where the scale of marketing campaignsdwarf our own. I am not sure why the President of the NTEU would seek that outcomewhen facing the impact of government cuts which will take at least $10m out of ourbudget every year from 2019 onwards.

The real facts are that we have every reason to be proud on those graduation days, tocelebrate when our researchers make a difference to the world and when our alumnihonour us through global achievements.

The ‘world does need new’ and it does indeedneed the University of Newcastle.

Professor Caroline McMillen, Vice-Chancellor, University of Newcastle

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