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Monday 6 August 2007

Sally Walker, Vice-Chancellor, Deakin University


Deakin University

In 2007, Deakin University is celebrating its 30th Anniversary of enrolling students.

It is a time for reflection, particularly for those who can remember the official opening on what was then a wind-swept and largely bare Campus at Waurn Ponds, west of Geelong in regional Victoria.

Named after Australia's second Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, the University has enjoyed significant growth over three decades and now has Campuses in suburban Melbourne at Burwood, at Warrnambool, and on the Waterfront in Geelong, as well as Waurn Ponds.

This mix of urban and regional gives us a unique perspective of the needs of students and the broader community.

It was one of the reasons for Deakin establishing its new Medical School, with the help of the Federal and Victorian governments. We recognised that the biggest need for doctors is in regional Australia. Where better for them to train than in regional Victoria?

As well as being highly regarded as a place of teaching, Deakin has in recent times been one of Australia's fastest growing research institutions.

We have achieved this by marking out our own patch in research. This is partly in response to the call from the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, Julie Bishop, to define how we are different from other universities. It has also taken place organically as our talented and growing groups of researchers have created their own remarkable body of research by working closely with industry and the community.

With our industry partners, we have developed the capacity to test our discoveries right up to the level of commercial operation. This means that the products and the science can be capitalised on right here in Australia.

Just as the original staff did in 1977, the current Deakin leadership has a dramatic vision for that once wind-swept and bare Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds.

We want to see it turned into the Australian equivalent of Silicon Valley, a place where even more than now, science and industry work hand in hand, coming up with fresh ideas, testing them, then marketing them, creating wealth and employment for Australians.

Unlike some other universities set in the middle of major cities, we have the space to house the researchers and the businesses.

We have already established on this space at the Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds the GTP, the 'Geelong Technology Precinct'.

Gone are the days when researchers worked in isolation.

At the GTP we have torn down the traditional boundaries so that metallurgists mix with medical practitioners, or experts in textiles with biologists.

Researchers who are working on making materials lighter and stronger for cars and aeroplanes have influenced the thinking of a team working on new materials that behave more like natural bone, so that hip replacements become more successful and long lasting.

In the area of intelligent systems, researchers are developing new ways to make airports, shipping ports, even a visit to the football on Saturday, safer.

Our scientists are also working on cures for cancer, heart disease, obesity and Alzheimer's disease.

Because all research these days must be measured by international standards, it is heartening to see that our research model - multi-discplinary, partnership-based - is now being recognised not just here but also overseas.

Deakin has entered a partnership with Biocon, the largest biotech company in India. The partnership includes setting up a Deakin Research Institute in India.

We are the first Australian university to be given the opportunity do this. The Indians, not just at Biocon, but at their Government level, recognise that the Deakin style of research is the one to keep their science up to speed with their growing economy.

As well as increasing our research capacities, this will create jobs in Australia, particularly in regional Australia.

So, exciting times indeed, which makes it interesting to wonder what Deakin University will look like in another 30 years.

One thing is certain - our still relatively young, vibrant University, with its unique research model, will be making a substantial contribution to the wealth and health of Australia, having also played a major role in reversing the so-called brain drain as researchers and businesses have come together to develop new medicines, better materials and safer cars right here in their own country.


Professor Sally Walker  

Vice Chancellor 

Deakin University