Australia National Day

Presented by

Discovery Reports

Pursuing an informed world view with Deakin

Discovery Reports

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 5:20pm

Vibrant, dynamic and multicultural, Deakin University embodies not only Australia's thriving economic landscape but the increasing global consciousness of society at large.

The first university in regional Victoria, Deakin is distinguished for its proactive approach and contemporary education methods. Committed to contributing to its surroundings, Deakin is deeply involved in rural and regional communities. It aspires to be a catalyst for positive change for the individuals and the communities it serves - and to be recognised as Australia's most progressive university.

"Deakin realises that it is important for students to understand the world and their place in it," says vice-chancellor and president professor Jane den Hollander. "An informed world view - this is what we want our students to experience and be equipped with as they move on to contribute to their own communities."

Since its establishment in 1974, the university has grown to become among the country's largest universities with a student population of more than 36,000. From its first campus in Waurn Ponds in the Geelong area, the university has branched out to three additional sites in Warrnambool in Southwest Victoria, Burwood in Melbourne and at the Geelong Waterfront.

Such diverse locations allow students to choose among metropolitan, regional and rural study environments. These learning-conducive surroundings are complemented by outstanding and state-of-the-art facilities, including the Deakin Motion.Lab at the Melbourne Burwood campus and the new-generation library learning spaces at Geelong Waurn Ponds campus.

Deakin offers more than 550 courses and a range of combined degree options developed to adapt to the changing trends in the Australian and international labour markets. These revolve around 15 main areas of study: architecture and built environment, arts, business and management, business information systems, education and teaching, engineering, environment, health and community services, information technology, law, medicine, nursing, psychology, science and sport. Postgraduate programmes are also offered in more than 40 areas.

A research-driven institution, the university has made a name for itself in the global academe not only for its many timely and solutions-based studies but also for its collaborative initiatives made across industries and countries. Encompassing the most cutting-edge and socially relevant areas of study, Deakin hosts 11 strategic research centres and two research institutes. It recorded its highest level of research grants awarded last year by the National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council.

Industry-relevant research that makes a difference

Research is at the core of Deakin. This is evidenced by the university's roster of world-renowned and highly respected researchers who are behind its distinctive and broad-based array of high-quality discovery, applied and commercial studies.

A vital part of fulfilling Deakin's commitment to making a difference through its research initiatives is establishing long-term partnerships with industry, business and government sectors. The university was awarded the prestigious Australian University of the Year twice for its innovative use of technology in education and its partnerships with industry.

Among Deakin's enduring relationships are those with the Geelong Manufacturing Council (GMC) and the Victorian government. In November last year, Deakin and GMC launched the Industry Innovation Program, in which the Victorian government invested more than HK$6.38 million.

The programme is aimed at connecting local manufacturing businesses with the research facilities at the Geelong Technology Precinct of Deakin Waurn Ponds. It is expected to help manufacturers with limited research and development resources have access to Deakin's facilities. These include the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (ITRI), School of Engineering and Australian Future Fibres Research and Innovation Centre (AFFRIC), which are among the university's most dynamic divisions.

Much of the community's excitement surrounds the continuing construction of AFFRIC, a new collaborative research facility funded by the federal government with more than HK$293.67 million. AFFRIC research will concentrate on developing innovative and functional materials, including nanomaterials, smart fibrous materials, green natural fibres and carbon fibre. It is expected to have an impact on applications relevant in aerospace, alternative energy, automotive and textiles industries.

The university is also actively involved in the thriving local vehicle industry, and plays a key role in developing sustainable technologies. It collaborated with vehicle parts supplier Futuris and the Co-operative Research Centre for Advanced Automotive Technology last year to create lightweight seats that can reduce a car's fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

"Much of our research work reflects and complements the developments in the new manufacturing economy," den Hollander says. "Deakin's expertise in automotive technologies, for instance, is helping pave the way for energy conservation and sustainability."

Deakin's active pursuit of environmental issues and solutions does not go unnoticed in the national and international communities. The university received national attention last year when Deakin professor Maria Forsyth was awarded the Australian Laureate Fellowship for her research into more reliable ways to capture renewable energy.

Exploring solutions to storing power generated from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave energy, the research is focused on cost-effective and abundant materials to produce longer-lasting batteries. This research, according to den Hollander, is an example of Deakin's growing reputation as a world-class research institution whose research genuinely makes a difference to the wider communities serviced by the university.

To ensure that its students are also consistently motivated to pursue innovation and creative thinking, Deakin begins with attracting the best faculty and mentors. It also shows support to research students by providing them opportunities to work with partner collaborators nationally and internationally, present their research findings at international conferences, and to use world-class facilities within Australia and overseas.

"Getting the best people is a great challenge for every industry, but once we do, we make sure we keep them happy," den Hollander says. "In turn, they are able to enthuse, inspire and engage great students who have brilliant ideas."

Strengthening ties in China, Asia

Complementing Deakin's research capabilities are the university's strong relationships beyond its Australian campuses. The university has enduring partnerships with about 30 institutions and organisations in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Apart from stimulating academic and research collaboration, the partnerships enable student and staff exchange and other interactive and cultural immersion programmes.

More than 7,700 international students are enrolled at Deakin, about 5,500 of whom come from Asia. Chinese students make up the largest group, representing nearly half of the international population. The university also has the most partnerships in China, where it works with more than 35 organisations.

"We look to China in a very particular way, seeing the region especially important for areas such as business, arts, education and health," den Hollander says. "Asia is the new centre of ideas and wealth in the world - and China is the dominant economy within the region."

Deakin opened an office in Beijing in 2008, creating a bridge not only to partner universities but also professional and industry bodies and government agencies on the mainland. Its local presence is aimed to further develop institutional relationships and provide the university relevant market intelligence.

Most of the collaborations between Deakin and its partners revolve around issues and challenges that are similarly faced by Australia and China. These include finding solutions to environmental problems resulting from extensive industrial and mining activities in both regions. Focusing on this particular area, Deakin launched a joint research project that studies the impact of such activities on key environmental issues such as water shortages and soil contaminations.

Led by Deakin professor Kong Lingxue, the research is done with scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences. It is expected to yield engineering solutions and biological remediation that will benefit industries in the two countries.

With the mainland's vehicle sales dominating the global market, Deakin is also keen on expanding relevant joint research activities through the Sino-Australia Initiative for Automotive Materials and Technologies (iAMT).

A research consortium between Deakin and Hefei University of Technology (HFUT) in advanced automotive materials and technologies, iAMT was opened in 2010 in Hefei. It engages Australian components companies and mainland motor manufacturers in addressing key issues such as emission control and efficiency improvement of vehicles, light metals and green manufacturing.

Deakin also shares its vehicle expertise with leading steel producer Wuhan Iron and Steel (Group) Corporation (WISCO), which has invested in a joint Centre for Automotive Steel Research and Innovation at Deakin Waurn Ponds. The centre focuses on advanced steels and metal forming processes needed to secure the future of car manufacturing, drawing from WISCO's technical development know-how and Deakin's research expertise at ITRI.

"What can a small player such as Australia do with a big player such as China? We have the capacity-building skills and experience of being closely involved in industries such as car manufacturing, health and environment," den Hollander says. "Working with such key Chinese partners will hopefully create impact in reducing both China's and Australia's carbon emissions and increasing the environmental sustainability of the wider region."

Deakin also has notable partnerships with Wuhan Textile University, Beijing University of Technology, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Capital Medical University and Dalian Polytechnic University.

Under the Deakin Graduate School of Business, the university runs the China Study Program, which offers students a valuable opportunity to learn how business operates on the mainland and to build strong business networks.

"Deakin's initiatives overseas such as the China Study Program enable students to look over the border and appreciate a different culture, a different discipline," den Hollander says. "It lets them ask, 'What is our world view now knowing what we know?', and gives them the capacity to be more innovative with new perspectives."

The university aims to further expand its international student mobility destinations in China, and seeks collaboration with institutions in more provinces and in the mainland's second-tier cities.

"Our vision in China is to explore more meaningful science - and by meaningful, we mean that it contributes to the economy through a genuine exchange of ideas between China and Australia," den Hollander says. "We want to be an institution that embodies excellence in a modern environment and complement our mutually respected differences to do something that will be useful to the wider community."

Looking ahead, Deakin plans to move away from a purely student recruitment-based focus, and develop deeper two-way relationships with academic institutions throughout the region. It will also pursue growth in other emerging markets in Asia such as the Philippines.

The university will likewise continue building its areas of expertise and pushing more initiatives that will have long-lasting impact - on the university, the communities it serves and Asia-Pacific in general. Among these are its materials, health and environment, marine aquatic science and other sciences, most of which relate to advancing environmental causes.

"Environmental sustainability and water and food security are the new issues that our region will confront," den Hollander says. "What are we doing to make our communities survive sustainably? This is where universities have a role to play - to make sure that we are informed of each other's views; that we actually do meaningful things that help the people in the communities that we serve."

Demonstrating such thrust is Deakin's social rebuilding programme in Indonesia's Aceh province, which was struck by a devastating tsunami in 2004. Learning that the catastrophe left the province's teaching community crippled as more than 3,000 teachers died in the tragedy, the university collaborated with the Aceh province government to train a new generation of educators. Under the programme, it provided Acehnese scholarships for the Deakin master of education course.

"Deakin is a leader in teacher education, and we are pleased to contribute world-class work to our region in the time of need," den Hollander says. "We exist to serve our communities, which pertain to Melbourne, to Geelong, to Victoria, and indeed, with an informed world view, to the whole of Asia."