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Otago to host Centres of Research Excellence

The University of Otago is to host a new Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) and to co-host another new CoRE.

Otago has been chosen by the Tertiary Education Commission to host the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, with Associate Professor David Hutchinson (Department of Physics) as director, and to co-host Brain Research New Zealand – Rangahau Roro Aotearoa with the University of Auckland. Professor Cliff Abraham (Department of Psychology) will be in a co-director role with Auckland University’s Distinguished Professor Richard Faull.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says this is a clear indication of the University's research standing. “Otago has many research strengths in a diverse range of fields and this strength has been underscored by the CoRE announcement,” she says.

“What is particularly exciting is that we have been entrusted with key leadership roles in two very different areas – photonics and quantum science, and brain health. Both of these CoREs will bring us into closer working relationships with other New Zealand universities and research institutes, and the sharing of ideas and energy across the sector will be of great benefit to the country.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says Otago's involvement in these centres will boost research at the University. “These CoREs are an exciting opportunity to develop and build on our existing collaborations. This will also allow us to develop our own research capacity, as well as nurture the next generation of scientists.

“They involve groundbreaking areas of science which provide scope, not only for studies that generate fundamental knowledge, but also translational research that is of wider benefit to our economy and society, and that enhances New Zealanders’ health and well-being.”

Professor Blaikie emphasises that, as well as these hosting and directing roles, Otago researchers are also fulfilling vital roles as collaborators and co-researchers for several centres hosted by other institutions.

VC AP DHutchinson Prof CAbraham DVC Blaikie
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne (left) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie (right) with new CoRE directors Associate Professor David Hutchinson and Professor Cliff Abraham.

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Lottery grants for Otago health researchers

University of Otago health research projects have attracted more than $1.9 million in funding from the Lottery Grants Board.

Researchers from the Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington campuses have received 24 translational research grants, seven equipment grants and two PhD scholarships. Otago's translational projects range from investigating how the bacteria that cause listeria spread in the body to studying severe housing deprivation.

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Otago becomes major Highlanders' sponsor

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne and Highlanders’ players Craig Millar and Ben Smith.

The University of Otago is now one of the major sponsors of the Highlanders Super Rugby team, a move aimed at capitalising on the rugby franchise’s significant marketing exposure.

Although this is a first for a New Zealand university, such sponsorships are not uncommon in the US and Australia.

As part of the sponsorship, the University’s name now appears on the back of the Highlanders’ jerseys and on the medics’ bibs. During home games the University logo is painted on the Forsyth Barr Stadium playing surface and also appears on sideline digital signage. University videos play during intervals and players are becoming involved in academic initiatives and University events.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says this agreement gives the University an opportunity to increase its visibility to markets across New Zealand and overseas. “We are New Zealand’s oldest and finest University, but we are also, sometimes, it’s shyest. The location of our main campus in Dunedin is beautiful, but we sometimes run the risk of being overlooked because the University isn’t located in one of the larger cities.”

She says the decision to sponsor the Highlanders’ franchise was based on a number of strong synergies, with the team representing provinces south of the Waitaki, incuding both Otago and Southland.

“When you look at the high-level skills that have been used to develop professional rugby success – the expertise in medical, physiotherapy, marketing and business areas, the science in clothing and nutrition – a lot of these skills have come from students, graduates, researchers and teachers from the University of Otago.”

Just as many of the most prestigious universities in the world have strong sports programmes, she hopes the support of the Highlanders’ franchise and associated benefits will draw more of the “best and brightest” to study at Otago. “The University of Otago already has a long and proud history of nurturing some of the best Highlanders' players – and future All Blacks – as they studied for their degrees at Otago while pursuing their rugby careers.”

Another important consideration in the sponsorship decision was the stadium itself and the need for the Otago and Southland community, of which the University is a part, to support it.

“This stadium is not only a part of the Dunedin community, it is also a part of the University of Otago community – together, we need to work to make it succeed. Since its completion, we have used the stadium for University events, including student Orientation. The stadium grounds provide a safe environment for student activities and they are only a short walk from the flats in North Dunedin and our residential colleges.

“There are very real opportunities that make this sponsorship such a great fit for our University. Not only are our students one of the most colourful and passionate fan-bases of the Super Rugby competition in New Zealand, it is also very important that the University leads from the front.

“We need to use our collective voices and our collective influence to remind New Zealand – and the rest of the world – that Dunedin is a place of endless opportunity. The Highlanders are a part of our vibrant community and we look forward to our growing partnership with them.”

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"Nature" rankings confirm research excellence

Otago has again ranked first among New Zealand research institutions for papers published in the prestigious journal Nature and its 17 related primary research journals.

The 2013 Nature Publishing Index Asia-Pacific measures the output of research articles published in the 18 Nature-branded journals over the calendar year to provide a snapshot of research in the Asia-Pacific region in 2013.

Otago came in at 67th, rising from 87th place in 2012, when it also topped the country’s institutions. The index also reveals that the University enjoys the highest New Zealand ranking over the 2009-2013 period, coming in at 61st.

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Te Rangi Hiroa College opened

A newly-opened University of Otago student accommodation facility has been named Te Rangi Hiroa College in honour of the late Otago medical school graduate, who was also known as Sir Peter Buck, recognising the strong bond between the University and his whānau and tribal connections.

The opening of the 127-student college was attended by 130 distinguished guests, including 40 members of Te Rangi Hiroa’s Taranaki whānau and his tribe, Ngati Mutunga, representatives from Ngāi Tahu, the University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne, and distinguished alumni of Otago, including former graduate, and prominent Māori leader Professor Sir Mason Durie.

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Global resource scarcity under spotlight

An impressive line-up of national and international speakers will grapple with global resource scarcity at this year’s University of Otago Foreign Policy School, to be held at St Margaret’s College from Friday 27 June until Sunday 29 June.

Now in its 49th year, the 2014 Otago Foreign Policy School is titled “Global Resource Scarcity: Catalyst for Conflict or Collaboration?”. It will focus on issues including global phosphorus security, rare earth metals, the water footprint of hydraulic fracturing, the politics of scarcity, China’s quest for natural resources in the South Pacific, deep sea mining, and business risks and opportunities related to water scarcity.

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Teaching awards celebrate excellence

Teaching Excellence Awards recipients: Dr Timothy Cooper, Dr Suzanne Pitama, Dr Karyn Paringatai, Dr Ros Whiting and Dr Lynnette Jones.

This year’s University of Otago Teaching Excellence Awards were presented to five high-achieving lecturers who keep the real world very much in mind when taking their students on journeys deeper into their subject.

The 2014 awards consist of two kaupapa Māori awards, which have gone to the Maori/Indigenous Health Institute’s (MIHI) Dr Suzanne Pitama and Te Tumu’s Dr Karyn Paringatai; and three general awards, received by Dr Ros Whiting (Accountancy and Finance), Dr Lynnette Jones (School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences) and Dr Timothy Cooper (Theology).

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Science challenge role for Otago

Otago’s keystone role within the first of the Government’s multimillion dollar science challenges is likely to open up new and exciting opportunities for researchers and students.

Otago will team up with an alliance comprising the University of Auckland, Massey University, and Crown Research Institutes AgResearch and Plant and Food Research, to deliver cutting-edge, multidisciplinary research to help New Zealand companies take advantage of global demand for foods with health benefits.

This 10-year challenge is approved with funding of $30.6 million, subject to finalisation of contract conditions. A review at the end of five years means another $53.2 million becomes available for a second five-year period.

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Solid financial result

The University achieved a solid result for the 2013 financial year, with an operating surplus of $36.5 million. This was largely due to three one-off items: agreement with insurers on the final costs of repairs to the University’s earthquake-damaged buildings in Christchurch; an increase in the market value of the University’s holding in biotechnology company Pacific Edge Limited; and an unexpected reduction in the estimated cost of future liabilities for staff retiring gratuities, long-service and sick leave.

Chief Operating Officer John Patrick says the financial position of the University continues to be strong, with equity now totalling just over $1.2 billion and no external debt. “The excellent result for 2013, even after allowing for the one-off items described above, is testament to the prudent financial management of a University community committed to excellent outcomes.”

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Dr Samir Samman as Professor of Human Nutrition and Head of Department. Professor Samman comes to Otago from the University of Sydney, where he was a lecturer and researcher in Human Nutrition in the School of Molecular Bioscience.

Janice Galloway as the inaugural University of Otago Scottish Writers Fellow. The acclaimed Scottish novelist, who is at Otago for three months, is one of the most accomplished writers in the United Kingdom. Her debut novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989), won the 1990 MIND/Allen Lane Book of the Year Award and she has won a string of subsequent awards.

Dr Sarah Stein as the new Director of Distance Learning at Otago. Dr Stein was previously a senior lecturer in higher education in the Higher Education Development Centre at Otago.

Sharon van Turnhout as the University’s new Chief Financial Officer. Ms van Turnhout is an Otago graduate who recently returned from working in London. She succeeds Grant McKenzie who has taken up the position of Group Chief Financial Officer at the Dunedin City Council.

Karyn Thomson as the new Director of Student Services, replacing retiring director David Richardson.

Melissa Lethaby as manager of Disability Information & Support.

Awards/ Achievements

Emeritus Professor Tony Molteno (Surgical Sciences) was awarded the International Society of Glaucoma Surgery medal of outstanding achievement in glaucoma at the society’s recent congress in Singapore.

Professor Craig Rodger (Physics) and Associate Professor Sarah Young (Pathology) were amongst six academics to receive Fulbright New Zealand Scholar Awards this year. Professor Rodger will use the travelling scholarship to go to the University of Iowa in 2015 to research the loss of electrons from the Van Allen radiation belt into the atmosphere, while Associate Professor Young is going to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and to Texas Children's Hospital Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, to work on development of a vaccine and immune therapies for colorectal cancer.

Benjamin Ayto, who is studying for a conjoint LLB/BA degree at the University of Otago, has received a Robertson Scholarship worth $70,000 a year to study at Duke University in the United States.

Honorary Doctorate

At the University’s May graduations ceremonies Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark (Botany) received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science and Justice Christine French an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.


Emeritus Professor Barbara Heslop (88). A former Professor of Surgery at Otago Medical School, Professor Heslop was known for her influential studies of immunology and transplantation, her strong advocacy for research and excellence in teaching.