I’d like to start by paying my respects to Bidjigal people. It’s on their ancestral lands that UNSW now stands. I also pay our respects to elders past and present, as the traditional custodians of knowledge for this place.

And to all of you here today, or if you’re joining us online, I say welcome!

Welcome to UNSW and welcome to the continuation of your education journey.

This is a milestone for all of us because it is my first O-Week as Vice-Chancellor of UNSW.

As an alumnus, I have returned home, in a sense, and feel very honoured to lead this wonderful university and be part of a really generous, collaborative community.

My father was a professor at UNSW, so I knew from quite a young age that UNSW was the university for me.

In fact, my mother, two brothers and my sister are all UNSW alumni and won’t speak to me again if I don’t take good care of their beloved university.

My father loved O-Week and would set up spectacular science experiments, to entertain the new students and make them feel they belonged here from day one.

Some of you may have done your undergrad degree here, some of you may have never yet set foot on our campus. But all of you have made a very wise choice to come to this world-class university – one of the top 50, globally.

You will get the best education from the greatest academics and be well supported through your studies by wonderful professional staff.

I know quite often when you get to this stage of your education – and for many of you, your career – that your time is stretched.

But I urge you to take in some of the O-Week activities to get you acquainted with your peers and your surrounds.

Some of the student organisers I met last week told me that this is the largest O-Week in the world, so I think it’s fair to say there’s something for everyone.

And you know that the people you meet will have at least one thing in common with you – you go to the same university.

In fact, two of my closest friends to this day came into my life courtesy of my very first UNSW O-Week, so I am a big fan.

While we want you to have fun on campus, we also want you to be safe.

Part of that is knowing the Student Code of Conduct which sets out the behaviour we expect of you, and the behaviour you have the right to expect of others.

UNSW is a safe, tolerant and respectful place, because everyone here – students and staff – shares the responsibility to make it a safe, tolerant and respectful place.

You, as members of our wonderful community, now carry the same responsibility and I ask you to be mindful of that.

Look after yourself and each other.

Ask for help when you need it. We have great programs and really caring people here to help if you things get a little overwhelming.

And as far as life during the pandemic, we are moving this term to safely reactivate the campus, to get back to a dynamic physical community here on campus.

We continue to take a health-based approach to a COVID-safe UNSW, to ensure your health and wellbeing.

So, I ask you to keep wearing masks when you’re indoors, maintain physical distancing and scan QR codes wherever needed. And please, don’t come to campus if you’re unwell.

So, what lies ahead?

To begin, I congratulate you all on being accepted to this brilliant university.

I was VC of UTS before returning to UNSW and I know it has not been an easy couple of years for university students.

You may have even had a couple of false starts to your postgrad studies.

I applaud your adaptability, and admire the dedication that enabled you to drive through all the challenges.

I have every confidence that you’ll make the most of any changes or challenges that may still be ahead of you, and will continue to embrace new ways of studying and connecting with your peers and academics.

I want to share with you aspects of UNSW that most resonate with me.

First of all, universities are incredibly special and hold a distinctive place in the community.

Public universities exist solely as a public good. We’re here for all of society – not just those who pass through our doors – and this is a core tenet of UNSW’s mission.

If you look at our history, we began as the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts in 1833, then became the Sydney Technical College in 1878 before becoming a university in 1949.

Each change has been in response to what society needed at that particular time. To me, that is exactly what a university should do.

At UNSW we excel in education and research and, underlying that, is a mission to support society.

Just look at our motto – Scientia Corde, Manu et Mente. Knowledge by heart, hand and mind.

They are the ideals we espouse at UNSW, to have compassion, to seek practical solutions to society’s problems and to carry out our work with intellectual rigour.

Right now, so much of our focus is on helping Australia recover from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, and to deal with the existential threat of climate change. Two challenges of epic proportions.

The second aspect is the entrepreneurial and innovative culture across UNSW.

As some traditional industries are disappearing, so we must nurture the entrepreneurship that will create new, sustainable ones.

These are the businesses and industries that will generate jobs you may fill over the many careers you are sure to have during your lifetime.

And we, UNSW, need to teach the new skills that will prepare you for those jobs.

UNSW students have an exceptional reputation with employers, and I am deeply committed to further elevating that standing.

But more, we have incredible opportunities in our entrepreneurship and innovation programs, and extracurricular activities.

And so I encourage you to take part now, during your studies, should you choose.

And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we can’t just talk about what we want to do or how we want to change society. We have to demonstrate it.

If we want to make the world a better place, then we must be an exemplar of social justice, tolerance, and inclusion; and of new ways of working, of innovation and of excellence. Because if not us, who?

You are now part of this university and community and so I urge you take the opportunities preented – and there are a plethora of opportunities, clubs and initiatives for you to get involved in to have real and positive impact right now.

Finally, I am a big advocate of work-integrated learning and UNSW has been at the forefront of partnering with business for many years.

In fact, I credit much of my success in winning a Rhodes Scholarship and then to subsequent career opportunities to the practical skills I gained by working with four different companies during my study.

You’ll notice as the year progresses that I’ll be pushing for more collaboration between UNSW and external partners, because that’s where the future lies.

UNSW has always been deeply connected to business and industry and we have one of the most extensive work integrated learning opportunities in the country so I again urge to you to take advantage of all UNSW has on offer.

So enough from me. In closing, I’ll leave you with these thoughts.

You know already what it takes to succeed in your studies. That’s how you came to be here today.

Continue to seek answers; to think critically; to be open to new ideas.

And never lose your curiosity.

If you remember one thing from what I’ve said today, it is ‘get involved’. University life is so much more than just your course.

Connect with your peers, either in person or online.

Get involved. Join a club. Volunteer.

Grab a free sausage sandwich – if you’re online, I’m afraid you’ll have to make your own or get Uber Eats.

Have a great week, a great term and a great year.

And if you see me around campus, please come and say hello.