The year just past did at times feel something like walking headlong into a gale, sometimes making progress and then being forced back, while unexpected things flew out of the murk.
But if 2021 was not a fair-weather saunter, good things did happen at UNE throughout the year.
We began by launching a new strategic plan to establish how the University will lean in over the coming decade of necessary change.
Future Fit sets some core principles for UNE. We aim to empower the communities that draw on the University's teaching and research expertise; ensure that we support our students on lifelong learning journeys; and foster resilience - in UNE as an institution, and in the communities and individuals that the University works with.
Our ability to connect with and across the communities of the region also defines the centre of gravity of the New England North West STEM Quarter (STEM Q) proposal, launched later in 2021. A practical vision for regional prosperity, STEM Q proposes a regional partnership built around knowledge exchange that works collaboratively to boost innovation and workforce development.
Consultations are now underway to discuss how STEM Q can support the region's economic growth and leadership through STEM related developments.
Outside planning documents, UNE's reinvigorated focus on its own communities was very much apparent in 2021.
COVID produced most of the headwinds we faced in 2021, but the pandemic also gave UNE an exceptional opportunity to demonstrate that it is of the regions, for the regions.
UNE's drop-in vaccination clinics, developed and staffed by an exceptional team of dedicated UNE Life staff, have so far delivered more than 7100 jabs - a substantial contribution to regional resilience against an ever-evolving virus.
In other health-related news, UNE successfully led a consortium of universities to win funding for a regional mental health institute, which aims to create the next generation of mental health researchers and professionals to address the significant regional, rural and remote (RRR) mental health challenges.
The CoP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow also gave the University an opportunity to reflect on its own sustainability agenda - which happens to be wide-ranging, from mental health research to ruminant methane research in our world-best facilities. In this and other research, UNE aims to deliver local solutions with global application.
Even as the global pandemic interrupted normal operations, UNE focused on its core business, with a regional bias
The University launched the UNE Guyra Study Centre (a partnership with the Armidale Regional Council), and advanced its plans for improved educational delivery of HE in Moree and the Mid Coast, while progressing the more monumental work of giving Tamworth a distinctive university presence. I hope that in 2022, we will see UNE Tamworth begin to take on material form, even as we expand on the custom course offerings introduced to the city in 2021.
In November, as we were making real progress on long-term projects and COVID restrictions were finally freeing up, nature intervened in the form of a tornado that ripped through the northern section of the campus. Twenty-five buildings were damaged, some of them terminally, and 250 of UNE's signature trees were destroyed.
Even as crews patched the damage and cleared the debris, we had good news: the University's Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC) won its fourth major award for excellence, and then UNE's Social Workers in Schools (SWiS) program won an Engagement Australia award for its decade of engagement with NSW schools.
Twenty Twenty-One was therefore a year of advances and setbacks - but whilst the setbacks are temporary, the advances made throughout this 'annus horribilis' will strengthen UNE for the long term work of education and knowledge exchange. .
I would like to imagine that 2022 will be all fair sailing - but that won't be the case, of course, which is why we continue to build the resilience of your University, and of the communities that touch us.
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