Happy new year!

We hope that you all had a restful break with your loved ones and friends.

As we venture into 2023, I can’t believe that we are now in our fourth year of living with COVID-19.

Even though 2022 presented some difficulties, I am proud of the way our staff worked together to provide our course materials in fresh and creative ways.   We host close to 600 students in the School of Optometry & Vision Science including our Bachelor of Vision Science and Master of Clinical Optometry, the Graduate Diploma in Orientation and Mobility, Graduate Certificate in Ocular Therapeutics and our higher degree research program.   

We have worked with our supporters and the University to ensure that our students are still getting quality training despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.  Dr Vanessa Honson received an Education Innovation Award and Associate Professor Juno Kim an Educational Excellence award at the recent Faculty of Medicine & Health's annual awards ceremony. Michelle Bonanno was recognised with a Highly Commended for Enabling Educational Excellence Award for her tireless work supporting our work integrated learning in clinical optometry.  I do not doubt that in 2022, our students were happy to spend more time on campus and benefit from in person learning.

Work Integrated Learning (WIL) will be introduced for our Bachelor of Vision Science students from 2023 onwards.  Any student who is interested can apply to undertake this as a general education elective for one or two terms, either in the second or third stage of the Bachelor of Vision Science.  We will partner with our ophthalmic industry contacts to provide a practical  placement.  This is a welcome opportunity for our vision science students to learn more about the many opportunities across industry and our sector.  

As some of the students commenced their degree during COVID-19 we made it a priority this year to support our School’s Student Wellbeing Action Group (S.W.A.G), which is a student and staff initiative fully focussing on “the mental health and wellbeing of students, building communities and successful transitions.”  S.W.A.G. held events throughout the year to encourage students to come together and meet each other in an informal environment.  It has been a great success and this initiative is something that we will continue to support throughout 2023. 

During 2022 we offered students and staff the opportunity to participate in an on-country experience out at La Perouse on Bedegal land.  We sincerely thank Dr Brett Biles, Director of Indigenous Health Education for facilitating this field trip and Uncle Vic who was an outstanding guide.  Reflective sessions were held with staff and students at the end of the day trip and discussions ensued about cultural safety, how important it is to our programs, and how to consider and see healthcare practice through a cultural lens.  Cultural competency has now been fully embedded into our programs and we are excited about running on-country field trips for staff and students and meaningful engagement in this important area. 

Our contributions to outreach during the year were plentiful and we had the opportunity to work with colleagues in the Faculty of Medicine & Health to inspire potential future students to study Optometry and Vision Science via the Gateway pathway winter and spring programs and Nura Gilli experience days.  UNSW Sydney has launched an ambitious program so students better reflect the broader population and enable more students from educationally under-represented schools, diverse and low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) backgrounds to access UNSW, with targets of 25 per cent over the next five years for first-year students from underrepresented schools and backgrounds. “Gateway is a three-year program and early admission pathway for students in Years 10, 11 and 12 who attend a Gateway school or live in a low-socioeconomic area.”    I am very proud that SOVS has met student access and equity targets for low SES enrolments through these schemes. 

For the 2023 Gateway Program, we have seen an increase in rural applicants to 19% up from 9% in 2022.   In recognition of rural workforce shortages in Optometry, applicants from rural locations are prioritised in this admission pathway.  We are so excited to be working with the Gateway team to increase our offers for 2023 and in partnership with Nura Gilli to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to study Optometry and Vision Science.

While providing pathways to enrolment is important, we also need to recognise the significant costs of studying our programs.  At the end of 2022, we worked with members of our School Equity Diversity and Inclusion Committee to create a hardship fund.  Our goal is to have five grants in aid to purchase equipment in 4th year and to provide bursaries for travel to rural, interstate or overseas placements in 5th year.  These grants will go directly to our students who are experiencing financial hardship.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Young Optometrists (YO) for their donation of $5,000 towards this fund in 2022.  

If you would like to contribute to this fund, please use the QR code below: 

As we move into 2023, we are excited to be involved in planning stages for the Randwick Precinct and the opportunity for SOVS to establish a presence in the Health Translational Hub (HTH) working in a multi-disciplinary environment to deliver better health outcomes, student educational experiences and research opportunities.  Watch this space to learn more about emerging plans and opportunities.

I am happy to share our success with our Orientation and Mobility program as part of the postgraduate coursework suite this year. As testimony to this success we have had an overwhelming response for enrolments for 2023 and Dr Sharon Oberstein, our program authority, received an Excellence Award at the Faculty of Medicine & Health's annual awards ceremony.  From 2023 we have decided to pause our Master of Optometry program, however, for those who are thinking of undertaking some study during 2023, we have designed some new non-award short courses with the practitioner in mind.  Evidence-Based Myopia Management can be undertaken in a self-paced environment, and is completely online, taking enrolments throughout the year.  We also have a short course in Dry Eye Disease: Diagnosis and Management which will run from 6-31 March 2023.  During 2023 we hope to add some more short courses and will advertise these to alumni shortly.  

It would be remiss of me not to mention the excellent work that Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton has been doing with Athena Swan at UNSW Sydney, advancing gender equity and diversity in STEMM disciplines in higher education and research.  Fiona became the academic lead for Athena Swan in 2022 for a two-year term.  She has a strong background in developing and mentoring women in Science and is a passionate advocate for gender equity.  She is dedicated to leading initiatives that benefit both academic and professional and technical staff at UNSW Sydney.  

We were successful with securing significant research funding to support our work during 2022 with income totalling $2.95M.  We are elated to announce that at the end of 2022, Associate Professor Juno Kim was awarded an ARC Discovery Project Grant for $259K which will commence in 2023 for his groundbreaking research in virtual reality.

We thank all of our staff, higher degree students and visiting academics who contributed to our total of 260 journal articles and three book chapters during the year.  

This year we also lost some stalwarts in Optometry and Vision Science.  Professor Brian Layland OAM passed during 2022 and was a wonderful advocate for the School and our students.  He dedicated his professional and personal life to the optometry profession and serving his community. 

We also were saddened to hear of the passing of Richard Grills.  Richard sat on our visiting committee for many years and was celebrated for his enormous contributions as an ophthalmic hero bringing in new innovations through the company he founded, Designs for Vision. 

Both Professor Layland and Richard will be dearly missed.

I include below some of our top highlights for 2022:

  • New collaboration agreement with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and the Centre for Eye Health 

  • Juno Kim was successful with an ARC Discovery Project Grant on “enhancing sensory perception and balance control in HMD-based VR”

  • Fiona Stapleton (ranked # 2), Mark Willcox (ranked # 4), and Nicole Carnt (ranked #8) as the top contact lens experts in the world by Expertscape

  • UNSW SOVS was named the top institution in the world for contact lens research 

  • Fiona Stapleton was named as the top researcher for Optometry & Ophthalmology for the third year running by The Australian newspaper based on publications and citations and UNSW Sydney as the top institution in this field 

  • Isabelle Jalbert was awarded a 2021 citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning as part of the Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) program

  • UNSW SOVS became a founding member of LIOEN advocating to strengthen indigenous eyecare in Australia and New Zealand by improving optometry education and increasing the number of indigenous optometrists

  • The promotion of Isabelle Jalbert to Professor, effective 1 January 2023

  • I received a silver ARVO fellowship 

Finally, thank you to all of our placement hosts for their continued support of our School and students.  Your help over the past couple of years in particular has been very much appreciated, considering the uncertainty of the pandemic. I also thank our 79 affiliated academics who have assisted with contributions throughout the year and our visiting committee for their unwavering support and guidance.

The staff here at UNSW SOVS has had a very busy 2022, and I want to thank them all for their perseverance, hard work, and commitment to providing all of our undergraduate and postgraduate  students a great educational experience. 

We are looking forward to the year ahead, a full return to campus and getting back to some normality. 

Professor Lisa Keay 

Head of School