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Featured News JCU Vice Chancellor to retire in December 2021

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Tue, 15 Dec 2020

JCU Vice Chancellor to retire in December 2021

Artistic photo of the large sign at the campus entrance

After fourteen years of exceptional service to James Cook University, Professor Sandra Harding AO has announced her intention to retire from her role as Vice Chancellor, effective December 2021.

JCU Chancellor Bill Tweddell has acknowledged the enormous contribution Professor Harding has made to JCU during one of the most tumultuous periods of change for the higher education sector in Australia.

“Under Sandra’s leadership, the University has flourished: revenue has doubled to over $550 million per year, she has overseen an ambitious and essential capital development and renewal program, and JCU has achieved significant growth in student numbers. In particular international student numbers in Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane and Singapore have more than doubled to almost 7,500.

“JCU’s teaching and research excellence has also been globally recognised, improving its rankings to be in the top 201-250 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.”

“JCU is the only Queensland university, and one of only three Australian universities, to receive a five-star rating for graduate employment by The Good Universities Guide for the past ten years in a row,” Mr Tweddell said.

He said Professor Harding has consolidated JCU’s position as a significant contributor to the social and economic development of northern Queensland, and maintained strong engagement with the Northern Australia agenda.

“Sandra is keenly conscious of, and responsive to, the distinctive profile of JCU as a regional university with a high proportion of regional, remote, Indigenous and first-in-family students, and has been strongly focused on Indigenous advancement, especially through education.

“Under her leadership, the University has prioritised the importance of the contribution of First Nations people by adopting a Reconciliation Statement and also renamed the Townsville campus library the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library and, just this month, recommitted the University to this focus by announcing Indigenous language names for each of JCU’s campuses in northern Queensland, names gifted to the University by local First Nations communities.

“A crucial achievement of her leadership, and an enduring legacy of her time as Vice Chancellor, is that Sandra has been able to enliven the University’s engagement around the importance of place, and the distinctiveness of JCU and its impact and contribution to the North and the Tropics more broadly. JCU has been globally recognised for its connection to the Tropics,” Mr Tweddell said.

Professor Harding’s advocacy for JCU’s powerful tropical agenda and point of difference, led to the State of the Tropics project, bringing together a consortium of 11 research institutions across the Tropics. As Convenor of the project, Professor Harding shared the stage at the launch of the landmark 2014 State of the Tropics Report with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Australian Government, recognising the importance of the Report, led efforts to establish an International Day of the Tropics. Professor Harding played a central role, working with the Australian Government to successfully build international support for the campaign. In June 2016, the United Nations decided that an International Day of the Tropics will be celebrated every year on 29 June, on the anniversary of the launch of the inaugural State of the Tropics report.

“An important manifestation of JCU’s commitment to the Tropics beyond Australian shores has been our growing presence in Singapore. During Sandra’s time at the helm, James Cook University’s campus in Singapore has also seen an almost four-fold increase in size, with now over 3,700 students,” Mr Tweddell said.

“JCU Singapore is the first and only Australian educational institution in Singapore to achieve solely Australian-owned branch campus status. Sandra’s understanding of the Singapore Government’s public policies has contributed directly to this achievement. It was also the first such institution to be awarded Edutrust Star status, the highest level of quality assurance in Singapore.”

Professor Harding’s input into the creation of the New Colombo Plan which gives Australian students the opportunity to study in Asia, reversing the original Colombo Plan which focused on educating international students in Australia, is another example of her ability to provide high-level strategic advice and guidance to the Australian Government on the importance and impact of the international higher education and engagement with the Asia Pacific region more broadly.

During her time as Vice Chancellor she also served as Chair Universities Australia 2013-2015, the first regionally-based Vice Chancellor to be elected to that position, and as Chair of the Innovative Research Universities group over several years. She currently chairs the Queensland Vice Chancellors Committee.

“To all that she undertakes, Sandra brings not just professional skills of the very highest order but also outstanding personal attributes: exemplary ethical standards and integrity, and leadership,” Mr Tweddell said. “Her ability to reconnect staff, students and the broader community with the history and contribution the JCU has made over its 50-year history has been an important element of her leadership. Her ability to engage government and industry on the importance of northern Queensland and the Tropics has been a clear feature of her time as Vice Chancellor.”

Professor Harding’s achievements were recognised in 2019 by her appointment as an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia for her distinguished service to education at the national and international level, and to the community of Queensland.

Over the next 12 months, Professor Harding will continue to deliver on the ambitious program of work that is before the University in managing the impacts of COVID-19 and supporting and promoting the economic growth and development of the region.

Mr Tweddell said Professor Harding’s decision to advise him so far in advance of her planned departure was a characteristically thoughtful one, which will ensure the University has adequate time to find the next Vice Chancellor and achieve a smooth transition.