Annual Report

Vice Chancellor’s report

After joining Murdoch University in April 2016, I was immediately struck by the passion and commitment of our staff. While recognising some challenges we face in our immediate to medium-term future, my first impressions were overwhelmingly positive and I am encouraged by the many opportunities that lay ahead for this University.

The success of Murdoch has been built upon the efforts of the many remarkable people who have worked and studied here. This includes a long and proud tradition of innovative thought and translational research, and this is what we must build on into the future.

2016 in Review Research

Murdoch University’s translational research has been making a positive impact for more than 40 years and we remain well placed to capitalise on the Australian Government’s innovation agenda.

We are strong performers in a number of research areas, including (i) primary food production; (ii) resources, the environment and their management; (iii) human and animal health.

Senator Birmingham announced outcomes of Australian Research Council (ARC) grant applications with Murdoch receiving three Discovery grants and one DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) of approximately $1.4 million and a LIEF (Linkage Infrastructure Equipment & Facilities) grant worth $2.2 million. The LIEF grant is part of the new collaborative International Metabolic Phenotyping Centre, of which Murdoch is the lead partner. This new Centre reinforces Murdoch’s position as a global research leader. I wish to congratulate everyone involved in bringing these successes to Murdoch.

China is a key partner for Murdoch University, and in 2016 we established four partnerships to undertake joint research projects and to train next generation scientists in areas of national significance to both Australia and China.

In 2016, we signed a number of important agreements for research collaboration with Chinese partner organisations. The Australia-China Joint Centre for Postharvest Biosecurity and Quality Research is a collaboration between Murdoch, Chinese Academy State Administration of Grains and the Plant Biosecurity CRC, aiming to work with the key grain users on solving national issues in Australia and China relevant to post-harvest grain biosecurity and quality.

Learning & Teaching

The Murdoch Curriculum Commission Review commenced during 2016 and will see a revision of some key elements to build a sustainable, contemporary and appealing course portfolio.

Professor Romy Lawson, Deputy Vice Chancellor Education, is leading the University’s academic mission with respect to learning and teaching, curriculum development and student experience. Professor Lawson will engage with students to excel in academic support, flexible learning options and better employment outcomes through real world learning.

Our newly appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor International, Professor Lyn Karstadt, joined Murdoch towards the end of 2016. Professor Karstadt’s primary responsibility will be to drive Murdoch’s endeavours to recruit onshore international students and build transnational partnerships. The University’s future sustainability is largely dependent on our ability to attract more students both here and abroad.

Our campus in Singapore is now the largest foreign university in the city state with around 7,000 students and more than 15,000 alumni. I was delighted to attend a graduation ceremony there in 2016 and meet with staff, students and alumni. In the past 12 months, more than 2,000 students completed a course at Murdoch Singapore. Our Dubai operation is now in its 10th year and continues to operate successfully. We are committed to extending and developing our presence in the United Arab Emirates.

The Murdoch Campus Masterplan was approved at Senate in October, incorporating The Student Hub refurbishment project which will significantly improve an important element of our student-focused facilities in 2017.

Engagement

I have been heartened by the support there is in the community for our University. Our deep engagements are many and varied, ranging from research associations with business and industry, to partnerships with organisations like Telethon Community Cinemas, which raise funds for children's charities and provide our staff, students and alumni with volunteering opportunities.

Our law students and staff have been working with the community legal centre SCALES (Southern Community Advocacy Legal and Education Service Inc) since 1997, helping to provide free legal advice to low income people living in the Kwinana and Rockingham areas.

I am grateful for the support, wisdom and generosity of the Banksia Association, the Murdoch University Art Board and the many philanthropic donors to our University.

In 2016, we began work on an overhaul of our online and digital presence. There are plans to commence a staged launch of the revitalised Murdoch University website in the first quarter of 2017.

Our community engagement efforts were bolstered in 2016 by events like Open Day and the Music @ Murdoch concert. These occasions ensured thousands were able to appreciate the stunning natural environment we enjoy on the Perth campus.

After discussions with the late Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Bolton’s family about commemorating his incredible contribution to Murdoch and Australia, it was decided to name our Library in his honour. An official dedication ceremony took place in February 2017. The Geoffrey Bolton Fund has also been established with a gift from Professor Bolton’s wife Carol. The Fund will help young scholars pursue education and research opportunities.

Our work in regional communities intensified in 2016, with our MAP4U outreach program building aspirations among future students, their families and teachers.

Our first offshore research centre, the Singapore Centre for Research in Innovation, Productivity and Technology (SCRIPT), won its first government research contract in 2016 to investigate mental health and healthy ageing in the city state. SCRIPT aims to address the productivity challenges of local industries and I am looking forward to its development.

Strategic Plan 2012-17 achievements

The Murdoch University Strategy 2012 to 2017 laid out a clear vision for an international, research-led University offering an excellent student experience to a diverse student body.

By reflecting on where we have succeeded in meeting the aspirations of the strategy, and where we need to do better, we can continue to grow and develop.

The current University strategy has yielded positive results in terms of research clarity, curriculum refresh and student experience, and we have identified clear areas for improvement.

Our research goal focused Murdoch as a research-led university with a reputation for high quality international research in select areas of knowledge, engaging with significant social and scientific challenges of our time.

By identifying key research areas for strategic investment, we have built from a very solid base and much of our research, in fact 87 per cent is recognised as being at or above world standard.

Our researchers are well known for agriculture, biosecurity, environment and sustainability, medical and veterinary sciences, exercise sciences, health, and particularly ‘One Health’, which characterises the interface between human and animal health. And our research in the arts, particularly through the Asia Research Centre, politics, public policy, history and theology, are all world-renowned.

The total number of enrolled students has fluctuated over the past several years, influenced by many challenges, one of the most significant being the half cohort of school students exiting WA high schools in 2014. However, over the past five years we have had continued growth in our student numbers at our Singapore campus.

Communicating and engaging with our various communities at the local, regional and international levels, cultivating knowledge partnerships, participating in mutual endeavours, and contributing to public debate and cultural enrichment was at the heart of our engagement goals.  Murdoch successfully promoted the cultivation of educational aspiration among under-represented groups in the university system. Through the completion of the First Murdoch Commission on Western Australia in the region and the launch of the Second Commission in Singapore, our University has successfully developed a strong institutional profile in the areas of translational research and applied public policy.

Murdoch has strived to provide a rich and diverse academic learning experience with a curriculum integrally linked to quality research and up-to-date pedagogy, equipping students with life-long learning skills and the capacities to successfully engage in a global world.

There are also areas where the goals set have not been achieved as fully as we would like. We have reflected on these areas and made some changes already. There will be further enhancements made under the refreshed strategic plan 2017–2027.

Challenges and opportunities

Many challenges and opportunities lie ahead as higher education markets become increasingly dynamic. The university sector now faces headwinds in Australia, including stiff global competition for resources and students, changing student and industry demands, and reduced public funding. This competitive environment has contributed to our deficit budget position.

Our ongoing success comes from having the ability to seize opportunities in a timely and agile manner. To help us achieve this, the University is currently negotiating a new Enterprise Agreement with staff that is simple, fair and modern.

We will continue to innovate and find ways to celebrate our distinctive identity to help us improve our standing and financial position. As a united team, we can cement our position as an ambitious, challenger university with our roots in WA and far-reaching influence across the globe.

The Federal Government will soon finalise its higher education reforms. It is anticipated these reforms will aim to ensure higher education is affordable and sustainable for all, whilst ensuring that universities are performing at the highest levels. That is why it is critical our focus remains on good governance, enrolment practices, increased student retention, and on continuing to educate world-ready graduates of the highest standard.

The next stage of our Strategic Refresh will provide clarity of purpose together with a shared vision, as we strive to build a sustainable university set for increased success.

Looking forward

Murdoch University’s potential continues to lie with the talent and energy of our people. There is an immense sense of optimism about Murdoch’s future. We have an opportunity to build on our exceptional work and provide clarity of purpose with our vision.

Steady progress has been made in 2016 developing and testing ideas that will form our next 10 year strategy. In 2016, I held four open forums with staff focusing on research and innovation, education and students, financial sustainability, values and organisational culture. Consultations were also held with members of the Senior Leadership Group, Senate and Directors and Guild council members.

I presented our emerging thinking from these discussions at a staff forum late in the year and consultation is continuing in 2017.

The refreshed strategy will build on the many strengths of Murdoch University, ensuring that we progress as a sustainable, world class, world-changing university.

Eeva Leinonen
Vice Chancellor

Download the Introduction section of the Annual Report.