Opinion | The 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

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 many different backgrounds and parts of the world. When students walk across the stage at graduation and their families give a grateful cheer – we know that employers across the world will respect their degree and their University.

None of this is easy – our academic staff have worked for at least 10 years to achieve their degrees, doctorates and professional qualifications. They may work in any one of our campuses– but their research has to compete on a world stage in a tough environment where 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 existing dogma. If you accept the world as it is today, then you will not change it for tomorrow. The measure of a great academic is that they also have the willingness to hold their arguments up to the test of truth.

Academics can fall into the trap of purveying opinions as alternative truths and sometimes even as ‘fake news’. I was therefore disappointed this week to read an 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 our professional staff roles knowing that it would not
  • stated that the review of professional staff is in disarray knowing that it is not, given the regular engagement and consultation with the Union
  • considered that senior legal officers should not go on holiday and did not know that the University has more than one excellent lawyer, as might be expected in an organisation with more than 4000 staff
  • was surprised that our Director of HR would be offered an outstanding job in another country because of the outstanding quality of her work in a world class university
  • did not know that the Director of Marketing is still working at UON until she takes up her new position at her family base in Sydney, that she considers UON to be one of the top places she has worked at and that UON will be ably supported by a prior Director of Marketing from a strong University who has already joined us to support the period of transition
  • omitted to mention that the staff survey found over 80% of our staff are satisfied with their jobs and believe in the mission of the University, that over 75% are committed and intend to stay in the University and that 70% value the rewards and recognition they receive.

It is certainly a matter of opinion, rather than fact, whether we should invest in informing students about the quality of the staff and work at the University. The cost of our campaign to let students and staff know how proud we are of the work they do, is equivalent to about 20 students deciding to come to the University. We can certainly decide not to let students know about us and then be surprised when they go to universities which are not as good as ours, but where the scale of marketing campaigns dwarf our own. I am not sure why the President of the NTEU would seek that outcome when facing the impact of government cuts which will take at least $10m out of our budget every year from 2019 onwards.

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

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

Professor Caroline McMillen, Vice-Chancellor, University of Newcastle