University of Newcastle signs up to NUW Alliance to tackle NSW's biggest challenges

New venture: Paul Jeans, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Gladys Berejiklian, Jillian Segal, Jillian Broadbent are standing. Professor Ian Jacobs, Professor Caroline McMillen, Professor Paul Wellings are pictured in the front row.
New venture: Paul Jeans, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Gladys Berejiklian, Jillian Segal, Jillian Broadbent are standing. Professor Ian Jacobs, Professor Caroline McMillen, Professor Paul Wellings are pictured in the front row.

THE University of Newcastle has joined forces with two other universities to form a research “powerhouse” that will develop smart solutions to the greatest challenges facing the state.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian launched on Friday the NUW Alliance, a partnership between the University of Newcastle, University of NSW and University of Wollongong that aims to pool resources for the benefit of the state’s communities, businesses and industries.

University of Newcastle Vice Chancellor and president Caroline McMillen said the alliance was born out of conversations between the universities about their shared history, similarities and desire to make a difference.

“Our three universities are very proud of their autonomy, they each have a very strong identity and a clear sense of purpose to serve their communities and their regions,” Professor McMillen said.

“None of that is challenged, it is only enhanced by the alliance and the ability to draw on collaborations with universities with the same outlook and the same focus on purpose – social purpose, economic purpose and technological purpose.

“The Premier said at the launch ‘collaboration is the new competition’ and I thought that summed it up very well.”

Professor McMillen said each university had distinct strengths in education, research and innovation, which could be combined to enhance equality of opportunity, create new jobs and generate economic growth.

“If we look at cyber-security, UNSW and Wollongong are firmly and very strongly focused on the protection of financial systems,” she said.

“Newcastle has got fantastic cyber-security in areas of what I might call infrastructure, so protecting how energy utilities work, for example.

“We’ve got complementary interests so we’re not competing, we’re building scale and reach.”

Professor McMillen said researchers from within the universities had decided on some “quick start” priorities, which include developing skills in new sectors including cyber security; partnering with health services to improve outcomes; creating greater access to higher education in regional and remote communities; and applying technology to improve connectivity, productivity and livability of regional cities and coastal communities.

The alliance has also opened consultation with the business, industry, education and health sectors and is seeking feedback to identify transformative projects, plus where gaps in research and knowledge might be exacerbating existing challenges.

She said each university would contribute annual seed funding to the alliance, which would use its “collective firepower” to compete for major funding to carry out research.

“The problems with our regions facing economic and social transitions are ones faced in many places around the world,” Professor McMillen said.

“Being able to say ‘We bring this collective capability can make it [funding our research] more attractive.

“If you think about from the Mid North Coast all the way through to the South Coast of NSW being able to say we can apply these solutions or the ability to test these solutions in different types of communities and regions and learn from that, that can be very attractive when you’re faced with those issues as governments are in different parts of the world.”