Chancellor’s address for the TESQA Conference, Melbourne, 29 November 2019.

Global higher education landscape

The concept of an ecosystem is today fundamental to our understanding of most issues. We live in a complex and organic system where the connections across disciplines and events are essential to understanding the world around us and how we must deal with it. The grammar of chaos theory applies as much to the higher education sector as it does to the flapping of butterfly wings in the jungles of the Amazon.

This is the broader context in which I would like to address the question of partnerships: why they are more important than ever and why they should sit at the heart of our education system at all levels.

Mine will obviously be a perspective shaped by my university role. But the underlying messages apply with equal force to the broader higher education sector and certainly to all who are engaged in the pursuit of knowledge and in preparing the next generation to become engaged citizens with a commitment to problem solving and creating change.

Universities are sometimes cast as ivory towers. But the truth is they are at the cutting edge of change. This is especially true of universities as centres for research to solve social, technological and environmental problems at a local, national and global level. And at the heart of this ambition is the forging of partnerships with other universities, businesses, governments and philanthropists. These are the areas I wish to touch on in my remarks today.

Federal funding cuts and the rise of partnerships

There is of course also a very pragmatic element to the need to partner which goes to the funding model for Australian universities and the way in which that shapes, and sometimes distorts, behaviour.

Put simply, the proportion of university budgets which are funded by government is steadily declining while the size of universities is expanding.

Across the Group of Eight research-intensive Australian universities, Federal funding now accounts for less than 40 percent of their revenue.[1] For UQ, Federal funding represents about 36 per cent of our total revenue. And the Government’s 2018 mid-year economic and fiscal outlook locked in $328 million in cuts to research funding in Australia over four years[2].

The logic of this trend is that universities have to generate more of their own funding.[3] And the largest source of alternative funding comes from the still booming international education market and in that space Australian universities have been remarkably successful.

Budget pressures have also sharpened the incentive to become better at forming strong partnerships with other universities and with industry and to do more on philanthropy and the commercialisation of research. So the old academic adage ‘publish or perish’, has rapidly been replaced by ‘partner or perish’.

Universities are now a truly transnational sector. UQ has more than 448 research partners in more than 50 countries. Work commissioned from the consultancy London Economics found that UQ’s total contribution to the Australian economy in 2017 was more than nine billion dollars.[4] For every three international students studying at a Go8 institution, there was a million dollars in flow-on effects to the economy.[5] For every $1 spent on research, an extra $8.65 is generated for the Australian economy.[6] That is an extraordinary return on investment.

But to view partnerships only in budgetary terms is to miss the critical importance of collaboration in creating new knowledge, impact and innovation.

Goals such as healthy ageing, food security, a resilient environment, developing technologies for tomorrow, and positively transforming societies demand a breadth of involvement and knowledge well beyond the confines of any single discipline or institution.

We must be outwardly focused if we are to find the solutions to the national and global challenges ahead. Partners of all sizes matter in this endeavor: from smallholder farmers to municipal governments, national agencies, global foundations and other universities. All are important.

Virtually every area of a university’s work could be enhanced by strategic partnerships with clear mutual benefits. If a university’s work is enhanced, then so are the outcomes for students and graduates, for users of our research, for our partners – and for society as a whole.

Industry partnerships are a particularly high priority, as UQ’s links to Boeing, Siemens and Dow Chemical demonstrate.


Boeing has been a collaborative research partner with UQ since 2003, working with the Queensland Brain Institute, for example, on how bees and birds navigate. In 2016, Boeing co-located its research and development employees on our campus – the first time it had done this in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the major focus of UQ’s relationship with Boeing involves collaborative research in areas such as unmanned aircraft, aircraft simulator technologies, and cabin disease transmission, Boeing also supports our undergraduate programs. One of its motives for partnering with UQ is to build a talent pool of potential employees.

It means that our students get an authentic industry experience and industry contacts, and students and staff gain new research and teaching skills, as well as access to unique facilities. Boeing is training its future skilled employees using the university and the university learns and grows through that experience. Research and teaching go hand in hand.


Our partnership with technology company Siemens is a bit different. Siemens is also building a workforce for the so-called Industry 4.0 future. Late last year, it granted us access to software with a commercial value of more than half a billion dollars. It’s the same software used to design the Mars Curiosity Rover and the Maserati Ghibli among other world-leading innovations.

Through the Siemens partnership, our students and researchers access the advanced industrial software used by the automotive, aerospace, energy, shipbuilding and electronics sectors. What we’ve been given is a tool for teaching and research, and it also helps our researchers create value. Not all industry partnerships involve cash, just as not all relationships can be reduced to a monetary transaction. The Siemens partnership is different again to our partnership with Dow,[7] which is based more on philanthropy.

Dow Chemical Company

Dow has a long history of innovation in the chemicals industry and it wants to get on the front foot with projects and technology that fight climate change. There are commercial imperatives for doing this, but these align with the common good. We all benefit from a cleaner environment and this partnership is about achieving Dow’s sustainability and sustainable development goals.

Our UQ-led Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation, opened in 2014 with a $10 million philanthropic contribution, is researching solutions to food waste, developing new low carbon fuels, and a steel making process that doesn’t burn coal or gas.

One of the Dow Centre’s important global programs is called Rapid Switch, and I want to briefly outline this program because it’s a good example of a multidisciplinary, multi-national approach to developing solutions to a global problem, in this case reducing our carbon footprint and tackling climate change.

Rapid Switch is an industry-funded partnership involving collaborations among international universities, including Tsinghua University in China, Princeton in the US, and the Indian Institutes of Technology in Bombay and Delhi.

The program recognises that we can’t pull the plug on fossil fuels overnight, so the question really is one of pace and planning; how quickly can we get to a low carbon economy?

It’s exactly the sort of question that requires partnerships at every level, using every discipline. There are myriad barriers and unintended consequences involved in weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. We have to do this without stopping developing countries developing, and we don’t want to destroy livelihoods. This requires the deep thinking that universities excel at.

Each community, each region, has a different set of barriers. Identifying those barriers, finding solutions that will work and presenting them to Government policy makers is problem solving at its best.

International partnerships – I-I-T Delhi

Rapid Switch is looking at India which over the next 40 years will account for 30 percent of the global increase in energy consumption off the back of a rapidly-expanding economy and middle class with a growing need for electricity.

No-one should deny the people of India this wonderful opportunity to improve their lives, and the lives of their children, so how can developed, richer nations, help them achieve this without burning lots of coal?

Again, we need to understand the ecosystem in which we are operating. For example, coal freight accounts for nearly half of India’s rail revenue and the profits subsidise their passenger system.[8] The railway is the country’s largest employer and most important system for moving people around, so you can imagine the disruption caused by removing coal from the economy. Millions of passengers will suffer if you simply turn off the freighting of coal, because they won’t have access to cheap transport, currently subsidised by coal.

One of the institutions in India involved in Rapid Switch is the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, (known as I-I-T Delhi), and it’s looking at solutions to this sort of problem.

UQ has other partnerships with I-I-T Delhi, and this is an example of the web of connections institutions are forming with each other around the world. UQ and I-I-T Delhi have recently established a joint Academy of Research (UQIDAR) that enables students and academics from both institutions to work together to address all sorts of challenges facing India, Australia, and the world. It’s open to all disciplines, and research students will gain a PhD from both UQ and IITD; a truly global qualification.

There are currently 25 Delhi students enrolled in the incipient program and they’ll spend a year of their four-year PhD program in Australia. We’re hoping to build that number to around 300 within ten years and to include a substantial cohort of UQ students.

UQ and I-I-T-Delhi are both good at commercialisation and collaboration. Our countries share many of the same concerns about energy, climate, agriculture and health. We already have strong trade and industry ties at the bilateral level.[9] This will strengthen them.

India is a good fit for Australian partnerships, especially in Education, which in my report to the PM last year I identified as the flagship sector of a 20-year India economic strategy. India has the world’s largest population of people aged 18 to 22. Its cities, particularly Delhi, have multi-national companies and venture capital, so in considering industry partnerships, Delhi IIT is an attractive partner for UQ.

And there’s a real hunger in India for PhD-educated people, to help drive innovation in government and industry, and to support the infrastructure needed to raise the living standards and skills of 400 million people.

Commercialisation as a result of partnerships

Some of our partnerships have a distinct commercialisation or technology transfer purpose. They take advantage of the fact that, as well as being a global top-50 university, UQ is, by a considerable margin, Australia’s best university for research commercialisation with a history of producing products that have changed the world.

Products such as the Gardasil vaccine co-invented at UQ by Professor Ian Frazer, an immunologist originally from Scotland, and Dr Jian Zhou, a virologist from China. It was translated into a commercial product through UQ’s commercial arm, UniQuest, and licensed to Merck & Co.

Gardasil is now available in more than 130 countries and more than 200 million doses have been distributed around the world. Such is its impact that research from the Cancer Council predicts Australia will become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer by 2035[10]. From a commercial standpoint, Gardasil achieved more than $15 billion in gross product sales between 2007 and 2016[11].

Other partnerships have similar prospects. For instance, our partnership with Emory University is about drug discovery and development, and one of its primary targets is treatment for Ross River virus[12].

A holding company, UQ Holdings Pty Ltd (UQH), has oversight of companies that now specialize in patent management and developing IP through contract research and consultancy services. Products are licensed and spin-off companies created, many of which receive investment from third parties, and so the partnerships expand.

Our portfolio is now large and includes the internationally acclaimed Triple P-Positive Parenting Program, and UQ’s superconductor technology, which is used in most of the world’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines. Our commercialisation impact makes UQ Australia’s leading university for licence income and value of equity held in spin-out companies.[13]

UniQuest has created more than 100 startups, raised more than $700 million to take university technology to market, and returned $655 million in revenue to UQ since 2002.[14]

Partners for and with students

The ethos of innovation that is synonymous with UniQuest is increasingly being reflected in our student population and again, partnerships of different kinds enable us to provide new opportunities to students and graduates who have entrepreneurial ambitions. Advice, mentorship and internships offered by experienced startup founders are all essential to the ecosystem for entrepreneurship that we are building.

Our students themselves are vital partners as the University increasingly creates space for students and staff and other parts of the community to work together on teaching and learning.

Philanthropic partnerships

The role universities play is often recognised best by the people who’ve benefited from their university education; our graduates. Our partnership with our alumni is evolving. With the rapid changes in technology, and the fast changing jobs market, our universities will increasingly be places students can return to in order to upgrade their skills. This means a closer relationship between universities and their alumni and a bigger role for philanthropy.

In 2017, The University of Queensland launched its philanthropic campaign, the Not If, When– the Campaign to Create Change. Our goal was to raise $500 million by the end of 2020. Our community of alumni and donors has exceeded our expectations in ways we could not have imagined. We are confident the goal will be met ­– and probably exceeded – in the coming year. More than 12,000 donors have committed to supporting the campaign and it’s already funded more than 1600 scholarships or bursaries, helped fund an ultrasound-based approach to dementia treatment, and a number of professorial chairs, amongst other things.

Philanthropy for Australian universities is a relatively new phenomenon – at least in comparison to the United States or the United Kingdom – but it’s clear there’s generosity in the community; a sense of sharing, for the purposes of making the world better, and a recognition that universities in particular can make a substantive contribution to that objective. One significant example is UQ’s Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation and Leadership, which funds scholarships in engineering with global sustainability in mind.

We’ll only continue to attract this sort of partnership if we adhere strictly to our high standards and integrity and proceed without compromising academic freedom or institutional independence. When we do this, the benefits and rewards both to the University and to society are considerable.

Take our partnership with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. Under this arrangement, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation will gift more than $50 million to UQ to fund 150 undergraduate scholarships and new courses in Western Civilisation to begin next year. It’s a level of philanthropic support rarely seen for the Humanities.

The curriculum – developed entirely by UQ academics – is impressive. It examines the key intellectual movements that have shaped Western Civilisation from antiquity to the current day. Students will explore representations of ‘the West’, encounter influential ideas from the past and will be encouraged to examine their relevance to today’s world in the context of the ‘great books’ – what these classics have to say about these issues and also what was not said.

Our agreement guarantees the University’s policies of autonomy over curriculum, academic appointments, academic freedom and governance arrangements. With the scholarship funding available, this is a potentially transformational opportunity for students to engage with the Western tradition and its relevance to the modern world.

Partnerships with government

In all of this we should never lose sight of the fundamental importance of a strong partnership between the higher education sector and government.

Our Institute for Social Science Research, for example, has a long history of engagement with the Commonwealth Department of Social Services. In collaboration with the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, for example, the ISSR has been commissioned to review the department’s Try, Test and Learn Fund, a $96 million initiative to reduce the risk of long-term welfare dependency. It’s one of the largest evaluations of social policy commissioned by government in recent years[15].

A few years ago, the Institute teamed up with the Queensland Police Service to develop a script to help police talk to people from diverse backgrounds, particularly in highly charged situations. The script is precisely worded to be clear and to project trust and has now been adapted for police training in Scotland and terrorist intervention tactics at Birmingham Airport in England, and in 2016 was cited by the US Department of justice as evidence of how police could better engage with the populace.[16]

Alongside this, there have been various research projects with the Queensland Department of Education, covering everything from the effect of single-gender classes on learning outcomes to the effectiveness of principals’ leadership in parent-school-community engagement.

As well, we belong to national and global networks including:

  • The Group of Eight of research-intensive Australian universities,
  • edX (the world’s largest non-profit Massive Open Online Course consortium, co-founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology),
  • the McDonnell Academy of International Scholars founded by the elite Washington University in St Louis, to mentor leaders and incubate bright ideas from a select group of world universities
  • the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership, an international group of research and industry leaders committed to making a difference through collaboration,
  • and Universitas 21 which brings together 25 international research-intensive universities.


Let me conclude with these observations

The imperative to partner may be sharpened by declining government funding, but it is driven far more by the needs of a complicated and rapidly changing world where collaboration is at a premium.

Partnerships and collaboration should be seen as the comparative advantage of the higher education sector. It is uniquely placed to tackle complexity in all areas of policy and at all levels of analysis and to mount the global connections needed for evidence-based solutions to wicked problems.

We are living through an inflexion point in world history. So much of the founding pillars of the post war world look shaky. We face, to adapt the words of the late Tom Wolfe, “a bonfire of certainties”.

It has never been more important for us to recognise the complexities of our global ecosystem; to find the connecting threads through the myriad of local, national and global challenges we face; to approach issues with an open mind and to be prepared to go where the evidence takes us.

If we are to find the confidence to navigate this terrain we must recognise the value of partnerships. We must nurture the collaborative impulse which is at the root of all problem solving. That should be the touchstone for all institutions which want to leave the world better than they found it.



[1] (excluding the Higher Education Loan Program, HELP).

[2] MYEFO 2018: Scientists are perplexed, disappointed by 'ram raid' on research.

[3] The demand driven system (DDS) for the allocation of Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) was first announced in 2009. It appears that 2012 was the year the DDS was fully implemented. See also

[4] Maike Halterbeck, Rhys Williams, Gavan Conlon, The economic impact of The University of Queensland, London Economics 2019, i. “Compared to its total operational costs of approximately $1,777 million, the University’s total contribution to the Australian economy in 2017 was estimated to be approximately $9,605 million.”


[6] London Economics 2019, 12. “… for every $1 invested in the University of Queensland’s research, an additional in-year economic output of $8.65 is generated across the rest of the Australian economy.”

[7] Although Dow Chemical Company merged with DuPont on 31 August 2017 to form a new company DowDuPont, the materials science segment was called Dow and in April 2019 was spun off into the Dow materials science company.

[8] Kamboj, P. & Tongia, R. (2018) Indian Railways and Coal – An unsustainable interdependency. Brookings India report. Cited In Rapid Switch India: Sustainable decarbonisation pathways that balance climate ambitions with economic development and poverty alleviation agenda”.

[9] India is Australia’s 4th largest trading partner and that bilateral trade partnership is growing. See Austrade Export markets – India.




[13] National Survey of Research Commercialisation, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, 2016.