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Vice-Chancellor's comment

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Vice-Chancellor's comment

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne looks back at some of the highlights of 2017 and ahead to 2019. 

Here at Otago we are currently finalising our 2017 Annual Report and it struck me that much of the rich information we provide in that document never makes its way to our friends and alumni. Given that 2017 was such an amazing year for us, I thought that I would share just a few snippets from material that is covered in our Annual Report.

Students continue to be the lifeblood of Otago. Our graduates are well known for their independence, communication skills and teamwork, which are cultivated in our unique residential environment. But what is less well known is the high level of academic excellence our students also achieve. In 2017, University of Otago students topped every one of the Tertiary Education Commission’s eight annual key educational performance indicators. This unprecedented result highlights the high quality of teaching at Otago and the commitment of Otago students to making the most of the rich learning opportunities we offer.

In 2017, we also enjoyed an unprecedented year in research funding, attracting more than $100 million in funding for the first time in our history. We received more than $24 million in the Health Research Council’s main funding round and achieved our best result ever from the Marsden Fund, gaining a further $24 million for 33 projects across all four of our academic divisions.

2017 also marked an important year for strategy development. We launched two new strategies that will have a major impact on the shape of our future.

First, we launched our new Māori Strategic Framework (MSF) to 2022. This framework builds on the inaugural 2007 MSF, fostering our on-going engagement with iwi and other Māori entities, and strengthening our commitment to achieving equitable Māori success rates in tertiary education. The MSF also sets ambitious goals to embed mātauranga Māori across our core activities throughout the University. Māori students achieved to their highest level ever at Otago in 2017 and we are currently on track to have a record-breaking number of Māori students studying at Otago in 2018.

We also launched our new Sustainability Strategic Framework in 2017, which sets out our bold ambitions to 2021. This framework not only outlines our sustainability objectives for the future, but also a plan for how we are going to achieve them. The framework is the culmination of rigorous planning, consultation and negotiation that has taken place over a number of years, and it sets us on a brave new path for the future. By treating our campuses as “living laboratories” of sustainability practice and research we will address our own sustainability challenges and equip our students with sustainability skills – skills they can take with them when they graduate.

We are currently in the midst of the largest and most complex building programme in our history. A number of new and redeveloped facilities were opened in 2017 including purpose-built premises for the world famous Dunedin Study, a new marine teaching laboratory at Portobello and the refurbished School of Business. Work continued in the Science precinct and on the $130 million redevelopment of the Faculty of Dentistry. We also announced plans for a new facility for Music, Theatre and Performing Arts. These are substantial projects that are having – and will continue to have – real benefits for the wider community and considerable impact on the regional economy. The latest economic impact figures estimated the impact will be $1.64 billion for Dunedin alone, supporting 14,748 jobs.

It was also the end of an era for our University Council in 2017 when Mr John Ward stepped down from his position as Chancellor at the end of the year. Mr Ward was the 18th Chancellor of the University of Otago and he gave many years of dedicated service to the University. He was first appointed to Council in 2003, he became Pro-Chancellor in 2007 and Chancellor in 2009. His most public role was at graduation where he presided over 103 graduation ceremonies and capped more than 31,000 graduates. He also oversaw the University’s ambitious capital development programme and guided Council through changes to the 2015 Education Amendment Act. Through all of this, Mr Ward committed his heart, his mind, his time and his own personal philanthropy to the University of Otago. The University is extremely grateful for his service. Dr Royden Somerville QC became our new Chancellor in 2018 and Dunedin accountant Mr Stephen Higgs became our Pro-Chancellor. We are very fortunate to have these high calibre graduates in these very important roles and I look forward to working with them, and the rest of Council, in the year ahead.

In closing, 2017 was an amazing year for us, but there is more yet to come.In less than 365 days, we will begin the biggest celebration in our history as we mark the 150th birthday of the University of Otago, our sesquicentenary.

A list of events and regular updates are posted on the 150th website. Our goal is to hold at least 150 events in New Zealand and across the world to mark 150 years. The Otago Magazine will dedicate its first issue of 2019 to the anniversary and we are inviting alumni to be part of this by sharing their memories with us. 2019 will provide multiple opportunities for you to reconnect with old friends, to share in the celebration of our proud history, and to be part of our ambitious and successful future.