Ian Jacobs: What is the role of a 21st Century university?

October 27, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Professor Ian Jacobs is a distinguished researcher
in the area of women’s health and cancer and since early 2015, the President and Vice-Chancellor
of UNSW. His speech “The 21st Century University as
a Servant of Society” is up next. So please welcome Professor Ian Jacobs. [Applause] [Laughter] Good evening everyone. Is everyone awake? Audience: Yes Is everyone having a good time? Audience: Yes Who was here for the first part of the proceedings? Who thought they were rubbish? [Laughter] Who thought they were fantastic? So let’s have a big round of applause for
those who did the first. [Applause] I don’t know who you thought was best. I actually heard that they were all great
except that Richard Buckland was absolute rubbish. Where is he? [Laughter] Richard you are going to have to learn how
to do a talk which really excites people and enthuses them. We will give you lessons. We are setting up a program for that at UNSW. Well congratulations to everyone who gave
such great talks. Thank you Craig. Thank you Darleen. Thank
you Rob Brooks and all of the team involved in the grand challenges and welcome to all
of you to UNSW on a truly great occasion. The Grand Challenges Program really is a
key part of the UNSW 2025 Strategy. It is right at the heart of it and this event, is one example of just how powerful universities can be in leading open and informed debate
on the truly big issues of our time and you’ve heard many of them in the first session. You are going to hear about many of them now. The first session really was a wow, well it’s
going to come down now while I start to talk and it’s going to go up again because we have
great speakers for you. I’m really grateful to everyone who has taken
part, to those who’ve organised the event and I’m honoured to be contributing on an
occasion like this this is great to see so many of you here. So, what is it that keeps me up at night? Well in many ways as Barack Obama said in
a speech earlier this year, if you had to choose one moment in the history of humanity to live. You would almost certainly choose right now. Over all it really is true. That the world is a wealthier, healthier better educated, less violent, more tolerant and
more attentive to the vulnerable than it ever has been. But, the world, I’m sure you would all agree,
is also the set by some massive problems. War, famine, oppression, economic disparity,
bigotry, xenophobia and prejudice and of course the challenges of the two themes
in our UNSW Grand Challenges: Climate Change and Migration. Both of those things are very much in the news along of course with the outcome of the US election. So these really are quite troubling and worrying
times. But what keeps me up at night, is not actually
so much worrying about those problems but thinking about how universities can help to solve them. And I’m absolutely convinced, that universities
have a critical role to play in resolving our problems and are central to the future of
humanity. For universities to rise to that challenge,
it’s essential that they act as servants of society and not as ivory towers. Right, I’m going to repeat that ’cause it’s crucial. Universities must act as servants of society,
not the ivory towers. And that overriding ethos, has to drive everything
we do and inform all of our decisions. If we can get that right, the great universities
that act as servants of their society and the global community, can play a key role in
shaping a positive future for people right around the world. And I’m going to spend the rest of my talk
focusing on three reasons that I believe universities universities can make that difference. And what we need to do to make sure it happens. First. Universities are right at the heart
of delivering the full power, of discover and invention. Universities are power houses. Their power houses, where great minds come
together and this is an excellent example – to generate and develop ideas, that become
applications that save lives and improve quality of life. And just one example from my specialist area
cancer care. The discovery of the cause of cancer of the
cervix. A disease which still affects over 500,000
women a year around the world. The cause, the human papillomavirus. The
discovery of that was the cause, the outcome of some extraordinary research in epidemiology, biology and healthcare which lead to the understanding and unravelling of the 15 year
natural history of the cancer. The development of the screening test which
can completely prevent it and now, an Australian university discovery an invention of vaccine
that can prevent the infection and can prevent the cancer from happening. That’s just one extraordinary story of academic success importantly in partnership with healthcare and industry. And we can talk about endless samples. Penicillin, the oral contraceptive, the seat
belt, the computer, the treatment of HIV or you could pick a couple of stellar areas
from UNSW. Solar energy and quantum computing. None of that and many many other things, could
happen without the research infrastructure, the enterprise, the expertise and the drive
of universities. Discovery. Invention. Innovation. That’s our
job. Outstanding research builds social progress
and it also brings great economic benefits. Research funding is not a charitable donation. It’s an investment that yields immense social
return and an economic return of at least 15% per annum, and that’s a lot better than
you will get from bank interest. To harness the full potential, we need to
ensure that there’s greater investment in research. We need to convince governments, here in Australia
and around the world, of the fundamental importance of research and the vital importance of fundamental research. Now that’s no easy task when everyone seems
to be fixated by national deficits. But we know, that great research can actually help solve the deficit challenge. A report we commissioned last year from Deloitte showed that UNSW alone generated $15 billion
for Australian GDP and we can do much, much more than that. Research really is an investment in our future prosperity. So that’s my point number one. The second reason why universities are important now more than ever is the need and demand for the impact of higher education on individual lives. People everywhere understand just how much
a difference a good education makes to the quality of individual’s lives, to the opportunities they have and their ability to contribute to society. Recent OECD data indicates that adults with higher qualifications, are more likely to
report good health, participation in voluntary activities and greater levels of interpersonal trust. Not surprisingly demand for higher education
worldwide is exploding. I’m just back from a visit to India. India wants to achieve a participation rate
in higher education amongst its population of 30% by 2020. Up from 18% now, and you can do the quick
maths. That means they have to find places for an
additional 2 million students every year. That’s just in India. Globally, participation rates in post secondary education, are now at about just 14% but they are projected to rise to 25% by 2025, and to be over 40% by the end of the century. That means, an extra 2 billion participants
in higher education by the end of this century. Now an established university like UNSW and
others, have to rise to this challenge. They need to facilitate it, and not stand
outside it. We need to transform the way universities
view and approach education. We are in an age, where education really can now be made available to everyone around the world who wants it. We need to make that happen. And we’re not talking about mediocre education, we’re talking about outstanding education. Delivered with cutting edge digital technologies which are enhanced by personal interaction with other students with mentors and academics. We need to use new digital technologies to
remove the barriers to higher education on a massive global scale. Universities must help to transform societies, not just their own but across the global community. For that to happen, we also need a transformation in the respect, prestige and reward that we off to teachers. For too long, teaching in our universities
has been treated as secondary to research. That’s not acceptable, it has to change and
it has to change quickly. We need universities to value, respect, reward and promote great teachers equally to great researchers. We need our universities to be not just
research intensive, but to be research intensive and teaching intensive and to be proud of
it and to live it. Great teachers inspire students, shape their
future careers and their lives. The world needs a new generation of teachers
who are able to deliver higher education using new technologies in individualised and personalised
ways. To reach the millions who want it. The more people who can access higher education the better off the world will be in the 21st century I have a third reason that universities are
so essential now. My third reason is the role of universities
in protecting freedom of expression the integrity of ideas and in promoting equality of opportunity. What could be more important than those things. Universities were created on principles of independent thinking of freedom of academic expression. Values that we need to defend at any price. Over the centuries, many academics have paid
a high price to uphold the right to express new views, radical and anti establishment ideas. That’s a legacy that all of us at UNSW and
other great universities around the world have a responsibility to uphold. Today’s universities need to be role models,
display transparency and openness encouraging freedom of thought, upholding the individual’s right to express opposing and often uncomfortable views. The importance of independent thought expression
has never been more important and it’s never been more potentially under threat than it
is currently, all the more so in a digitally connecting global community. We need to have robust protection of the independence
of universities, academic independence and freedom of academic expression regardless of gender regardless of religion, regardless of ethnicity and regardless of race. I would say that those are not lofty ideas,
they’re essential ingredients for a healthy, prosperous, democratic society. Universities must be both exemplars of those principles and key defenders of basic human values. So, those are my 3 reasons for believing that universities are more critical, than ever, to our lives as the 21st century unfolds. What keeps me awake is not fear of the challenges, but trying to figure out how we can ensure that universities can deliver their full potential
to make the world a better place. If we can get this right and enable universities to conduct great research, transformative education on a global scale. Translate their
work into social and economic progress. All whilst treasuring freedom of thought, freedom of expression and social tolerance. Universities really will be central to human progress and quality of life as we face the challenges of the 21st Century. All of that is what I mean when I say that the great universities of the 21st century – and UNSW will be one of them – are those that act in all that they do as servants of their society and of the global community. Thank you. [Applause]