|The energy of the campus lifted this week as people started returning from their holidays. I suspect the greening effect of the recent rain, after months of brown earth and dust, also contributed to the buoyancy factor. It was also great to hear people sharing stories about how resilient our communities have proved to be in the face of an on-going drought and the onslaught of the bushfires. The investment of effort into providing some resource small or large for those so tragically affected by the fires is inspiring.
Some 80 UNE staff remain on extended service leave as they continue in their roles as volunteer fire fighters and related roles across the state. To date UNE has provided nearly 2,000 bed nights to volunteers and reservists and served up over 7,000 meals. We are also on standby to provide respite accommodation for those displaced from their homes. Our staff are assisting with animal welfare issues and in discussions about habitat recovery. There can be little doubt that UNE has made a significant contribution in terms of supporting the local community in this time of need.
We have also suffered losses – a significant number of research projects have been terminally affected by the bushfires which have assaulted wilderness habitats. Many of our community outreach events linked in with our sport offerings have been cancelled – we host some 5,000 people per week through these events over the summer recess and they are an important part of UNE’s contribution to our community linkages, as well as the educational development of young Australians.
We are closely monitoring student numbers for T1, paying particular attention to the challenges relating to rural and regional students; metro student numbers are holding steady. We need to sustain and grow the longer term viability of our regional communities where the retention of young talent is a key part of recovery and regeneration. This is a situation which must be closely monitored and managed.
The widespread sharing of the bushfire tragedies in Australia has reached a global audience. The upside of this is the amazing efforts being realised to raise emergency funds and contribute much needed resources. The issue for the longer term is the effect of this publicity on interest in Australia as a tourist and study destination; this is another challenge to be managed.
You will gather from these comments that much of my week has been consumed with discussions about both immediate actions and longer term recovery plans. The Regional Universities Network (RUN) joined other education stakeholders for a meeting with Minister Tehan where the response of the sector in support of affected regions and options for the future was discussed.
I am sure I am not alone in wondering how best we respond to rebuilding and reimagining the ways we develop, utilise and protect our natural resources and address wider sustainability issues.