Vice-Chancellor’s address | 50 Years of Innovation Gala Dinner

Vice-Chancellor’s address | 50 Years of Innovation Gala Dinner

August 15, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Ladies and gentlemen it is wonderful to
have so many of our partners and friends here for this very special evening. Can I
join the Chancellor in acknowledging the Governor, Her Excellency the Honourable
Kerry Sanderson AC, Premier the Honourable Mark McGowan, other
distinguished guests, my colleagues from near and far, and friends one and all.
Tonight is a night of celebration, of the past, of the present and the future.
We salute Curtin’s journey from an institute of technology to a global
university. We applaud the success that comes from
working together towards a common goal, and we anticipate what the future might
hold for one of this state’s great institutions. Curtin’s journey began in 1900 with the founding of the Perth Technical College.
By the mid-1950s the College was at capacity and WA’s leaders recognised
that renewed investment in education, was critical to the state’s growing economy.
WA needed to become technologically inspired and to shake off its image as
the poor cousin of the eastern states. As debate arose as to the nature of this
new education provider, the then director general of education Dr Thomas Logan
Robertson was gathering support for an institute dedicated to the teaching of
advanced technologies. Robertson dismissed concerns that a new pillar of
education would impact on WA’s only university at the time, saying that by
establishing a technological institute, and I quote “UWA would be strengthened, not hampered by the petty jealousies that would occur
if a second university were to be established.” In 1960 State Cabinet gave
the green light to the new Institute, which opened its doors to students seven
years later as the Western Australian Institute of Technology. And recently
history has brought us full circle with Curtin now occupying one of the original
Perth tech buildings, the Old Perth Boys School, to create a city hub for
engagement with our partners, our collaborators and our alumni. Having
approved the new Institute, there was the inevitable debate about location. But
available land was soon identified as a consequence of the 1957 fire that had
decimated the Collier Pine Plantation at Bentley. And as you can see, the site
really was a blank canvas. The Institute’s first structure was a panel
of brickwork constructed to illustrate the proposed architectural concept, still
clearly leaving quite a lot to the imagination. Mr Vin Davies, the public
works architect of the day, designed the buildings to reflect the tough,
technological character of the Institute. However the West Australian newspaper
was not impressed, warning that and I quote “A lot of people are not going to
like the look of the million pound first stage of WA’s new Institute of
Technology.” One of them was a pioneer of the Institute, Professor John de Laeter, who
scorned the buildings, has been reminiscent of the Longmore Remand
Centre. But our first director Dr Hayden Williams approved of the finished
product, describing it as attractive, a brutally frank statement of honest
architecture. I’d like to think that John de Laeter would have been more positively
disposed towards the John Curtin Centre, which in 1996 created the formal
entrance to the campus and a colonnade so evocative of places of learning and
contemplation. Today our wonderful Bentley campus retains the foundation
architecture that reflected the modern but no-nonsense character of the
Institute, and blends it cleverly with our newer buildings. Gardens and artworks
have softened the hard edges and added depth and colour. And campus life embraces,
enhances and infuses the spaces between the buildings. But back to the days of
concrete and sand, quickly known by its acronym WAIT was a place that was
actually all go. In 1967 almost 3,000 young Western Australians enrolled at
their new Institute of Technology. It appealed to a bright young generation
who were energised by the state’s growth and potential, who could participate in
new fields, in allied health or engineering and physical sciences, or
explore creative technologies in architecture, media and theatre. And
WAIT’s footprint was already expanding. In 1969 with a mining boom hungry for
more skilled workers, the WA School of Mines in Kalgoorlie joined the fold and
mining education was added to WAIT’s offerings. And as an internationally
renowned centre of mining excellence, the WA School of Mines has been vital, not
only to the state’s economic growth and prosperity, but also to the university’s
profile and reputation. In this exciting new environment of WAIT, it’s not
surprising that an engaged student body emerged early on. As did a deep
commitment to real-world, hands-on learning. The Institute rapidly became
one of the largest centres of advanced education in Australia,
always maintaining its focus on delivering work-ready graduates. The next
challenge for WAIT’s leadership was to advance the Institute beyond the image
of technical education. A name change to the WA Institute of Technology in
Commerce was considered but the proposal was quickly put to rest by the acronym
WAIT and C. But the director of the day Professor Don Watts was not content to
wait. He was known for wearing a silver bracelet, for having a hairstyle
reminiscent of the Beatles and a reputation for stirring. And he had his
sights on university status. This move was controversial but his efforts were
ultimately successful. As announced by Curtin FM at 11:59 on the 31st of
December 1986, in one minutes time, WAIT will become Curtin University. It was an
inspired decision to name the new University after WA’s only Prime
Minister John Curtin, who had garnered respect from both sides of politics for
his strong leadership during World War II. Prime Minister Curtin was also a
great orator and a nation builder who spoke at the role of universities in
Australia’s future and their need to look ever forward. And that’s precisely what
Curtin has done right from the start, the initiatives flowed. Today our classrooms
have transformed from the formal didactic lectures of the past, the sage
on the stage model of learning has been replaced with engaged, connected, industry
relevant and student friendly spaces. Authentic work settings have been
replicated on campus, from a simulated hospital ward, to virtual reality
headsets that enable students to tour mine sites, to facilities like the
Trading Room and The Agency. That buzz with the energy of
financial markets and social media command centres, the nature of learning
is also changing for our new generation students, learning can be anytime,
anywhere, on any device. Our partnership with edX, the prestigious global online
education provider, established by Harvard and MIT, and involving only four
other Australian universities, reflects our endeavours to stay way
ahead of the wave of digital disruption. But we haven’t lost sight of the
importance of the campus experience, with the commitment to rich leadership,
sporting and extracurricular opportunities. And over the years our
course offerings have expanded to encompass the disciplines and
professions so critical to WA’s economic and social prosperity. From agriculture,
engineering, science and IT, through education, business and law, to the
broadest suite of Health Professions offered by any Australian University now
including medicine. We’ve also contributed strongly to the expression
of WA’s cultural and artistic persona, through our emphasis on creative and
theatre arts, design and the built environment. The University has always
been inclusive with a fundamental commitment to opening up opportunities
for students from all walks of life. We were a leader in Australian Indigenous
education, offering programs to Aboriginal students as early as the
1970’s. Our Centre for Aboriginal Studies is a model of self-determination, managed
by Aboriginal staff, shaped by the Aboriginal community and housed in a
beautiful purpose design building on our Bentley campus. Our Indigenous
partnerships include an important program with Clontarf Aboriginal College,
to raise aspirations and deliver real change. Not many
Australians associate Aboriginal people with the elitist sport of rowing, but in 2015 this program saw WA’s first indigenous
team compete in the annual state regatta. A wonderful achievement. And so to our research, even when WAIT was a small collection of
concrete buildings with a mandate to focus on teaching, the seeds of what is
now a proud research university were being quietly sown. John de Laeter and his
physics colleagues said about acquiring some of the most advanced equipment at
the time and building research capability, always with the focus on
collaboration, on engagement with industry, and on the challenges facing
the state. Sadly John is no longer with us, but with a minor planet named after him, his legacy shines bright. In our DNA as
a research institution is an eagerness to scrutinise problems, design solutions
and deliver commercial outcomes for industry and startups alike. A focus that
is reflected in our own smart campus initiatives, including the city’s second
driverless bus. And while the hands-free cigarette lighter has appropriately not
stood the test of time, we can certainly boast about other
commercial successes. These include products designed to help
people deal with tinnitus, to improve minerals exploration and extraction and
convert biomass to energy. In the last 10 years alone, Curtin has established 20
startup companies, that have generated over a hundred million dollars in sales
of new products and services based on developed technology. And the rise in our
reputation and profile has been nothing short of impressive. Last year Curtin was
named as Australia’s most collaborative and fastest rising University in
research rankings. We’re now ranked in the top two percent of
universities in the world with major capabilities across a wide range of
areas, including those that are so critical to our future, such as digital
agriculture, defence and international security, big data, applied economics,
clinical health trials and a major involvement in one of the 21st century’s
larger scientific projects, the Square Kilometre Array. And way before
innovation was the buzzword of our times, Curtin was a champion for the
development of a science and technology precinct, in the style of Silicon Valley,
adjacent to the Bentley campus. Technology Park helped to lay the
groundwork for our 500 million dollar Greater Curtin development, that will
take the concept one step further, to create an environment for industry,
academia and community, to better collaborate, to innovate, and to drive the
advances so essential to our transforming economy. At the same time we
have had a deep commitment to the communities in which we are embedded. It
includes household names such as Curtin FM, which was the first community radio
station in WA and our highly acclaimed John Curtin Art Gallery. And it embraces
our alliances which range from sporting icons such as the Dockers and Hockey
Australia to the WA Museum and the major national grains research body GRDC,
to our industry partners including Bankwest, Chevron, Wesfarmers, Woodside, CISCO,
and stretching as far as NASA. This engaged focus has led us from WAIT’s
foundation on an ex-pine plantation in suburban Perth, to Curtin’s enhanced
city presence, which includes the Graduate School of Business. One of
Australia’s very few city based law schools and our new engagement hub
set against the backdrop of corporate Perth. And it has led to our global
presence that broadly spans the Indian Ocean rim and beyond, as in so many areas
Curtin was out ahead of the pack. Establishing an engineering and science
campus in Malaysia in 1999, a health sciences and business campus in
Singapore in 2008 and a major education presence in Mauritius in 2012. In an
effort to extend our reach into Africa and South Asia, we are formally opening a
campus in Dubai next month, with plans for it to grow into a full spectrum
campus. And this year we announced our newest teaching and research aligns, with
the 500 year old University of Aberdeen in Scotland. This is a major bilateral
strategic alliance that will see us join forces, so that we can be more than the
sum of our parts, in areas of mutual strength such as energy, medicine and
health, creative arts and business, with one of our first initiatives being the
establishment of a global energy institute. Taken together, these
international endeavours fly the flag globally for WA. They deliver
partnerships that help drive business links and inwards investments. They
build capability and mutual respect and understanding in our region, and they
provide the diverse learning environments that are so critical
for the success of our future global graduates. Can I close by taking us
briefly to some numbers that I think speak for themselves.
We are now WA’s largest university and the most preferred destination for
university applicants. Our student population exceeds 58,000 and we have
over 220,000 alumni. We are one of Perth’s biggest single site employers, directly employing more than 4,000 people and indirectly being responsible for some 12,000 jobs in WA.
Our annual revenue sits at around 1 billion dollars per annum, and in 2016 we
contributed around 1.9 billion dollars to the WA economy. To put that in
context that was around three times the gross value added of WA’s gas electricity
generation industry and 20 percent higher than the contribution of WA’s
residential construction sector. I’m privileged to be Vice-Chancellor of this
great university in our fiftieth year. But the success belongs to the state, to
all of you here tonight, to those leaders on whose great shoulders I stand, and to
our students, our staff, and our alumni. I also applaud and thank all of you here,
who have contributed to Curtin through your wise counsel, through our advisory
boards and council, and through your philanthropic support. Your support
magnifies our impact in so many ways and you are all wonderful ambassadors for
the power of education. Our institution was born out of ambition, and out of a
deep understanding that powerful economies and stable and strong civil
societies have at their core, world-leading
and engaged universities. It has been a tale worth telling of a successful
journey of which we should all be very proud. So now I ask how bright is the
future for one of WA’s great institutions? Well just watch this space.
Watch as Greater Curtin comes to life and we double our on-campus student
accommodation, and we attract industry partners to co-locate on campus. And
watch as we deepen our global partnerships always with an eye on
delivering benefit back to WA, as we secure our position as a core component of a vibrant, innovation ecosystem, driving new
industries and new jobs; As we remain focused on fulfilling our obligations to
regional WA, and as we ensure that our students are equipped with the advanced
skills and perspectives so essential for their future success. And watch as more
and more of our graduates step forth as role models, as leaders, and in
ways that will inspire us all as they shape the future to be a better, stronger,
and fairer place for those who follow us. In doing so I assure you that we will
remain true to those qualities of inclusion, engagements, and innovation
that so define this great university. And we will do this at the same time as
ensuring that we continue to meet our namesakes imperative, that above all
things the university must have a soul and must look ever forward. Thank you.