Installation Address

Chancellor, Professor Jennifer Westacott AO
25 February 2023

Western Sydney University: a regional, national and global strength

A moment in time

Thank you for that kind introduction.

Today is one of the proudest days of my life.

I am truly honoured to be here.

In this part of Australia – at this point in our country’s future.

At this university.

And at this point in my life, surrounded by the people I love and respect.

Before I begin, can I please acknowledge the many distinguished guests who are here today and thank you for joining us.

To Deputy Chancellor – Liz Dibbs – thank you for presenting me with the Warrant of Office.

Can I also acknowledge my predecessor, Professor Peter Shergold and:

  • pay tribute to his outstanding and transformational legacy
  • his disarming humour, genuine warmth and energy, and
  • his passion and sense of justice in ensuring refugees feel valued members of this community.

And can I acknowledge our Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover and commend:

  • your integrity
  • your inspirational leadership, and
  • your passion to always seek to work with others.

You are one of Western Sydney’s fiercest advocates, and a driving force behind its reinvention.

I will be the strongest supporter of your bold vision to make sure this university continues to play a leading role in the lives of our community.

I also want to acknowledge our staff, who give their energy and intellect tirelessly to make this university the magnificent place it is.

And, of course to our students, who are the lifeblood of this university.

On a personal level, I want to single out my partner, my one great love Tess Shannon and thank her:

  • for being the great moral compass in my life
  • for her guidance
  • for her support, and
  • frankly, for her endurance.

And finally, can I thank my family:

  • Amir Rezaie
  • Zahra Khavari and her partner Atta
  • my sister Linda
  • Peter Cox
  • Morna Scott
  • my friends and colleagues, and
  • my golfing and fishing buddies for sharing this moment with me.

Acknowledgement and Voice commitment

In thinking about today, I thought about the real role of universities and their history.

Their role as:

  • a gathering place
  • a place of ideas
  • a place of informed contest and intellectual challenge
  • a place of sharing wisdom and knowledge
  • a place to form lasting associations and friendships, and
  • a place of community.

Many people say the first university was in Bologna.

But I disagree.

Because the first universities were the gathering places that swept across this country.

Places where our First Peoples came together to tell stories, to learn and to teach.

And the first science laboratories and classrooms were the great rivers, the reefs, the mountains and the plains.

Indigenous Australians were the world’s:

  • first scientists
  • first astronomers
  • first traders
  • first land managers, and
  • the first healers.

For generations upon generations, they have been:

  • the teachers
  • the innovators
  • the inventors, and
  • the great listeners.

And so, it is with humility and profound respect that I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which this university’s campuses stand:

  • the Darug
  • the Wiradjuri
  • the D’harawal
  • and the Eora nations.

I pay my respects to elders, past, present and emerging.

Under my leadership, this university will continue to be a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can advance and excel.

A place of welcoming and belonging.

A place where they can lead in science, medicine, technology and the arts.

Where they can be the decision-makers and the leaders in their communities and in this country – taking their place in our boardrooms and in our parliaments.

A place where every single Indigenous Australian believes this university is their pathway to economic, social and cultural advancement.

I am proud this university has secured $78 million from the New South Wales Government towards our Indigenous Centre of Excellence.

This consolidates Western Sydney’s position at the forefront of Indigenous education, employment and research as well as celebrating a millennia of Indigenous knowledge and heritage.

I make this commitment today – this university will play a leadership role in the referendum on the Voice.

Personally, I hope Australians vote yes.

Because I believe we have a moral obligation to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the original custodians of this land.

Secondly, I support their gracious, patient and respectful request to have a say over the decisions that impact on their lives through a constitutionally enshrined Voice.

Year after year, time after time, we continue to make mistakes because we do – but we do not listen.

And we need to put this into the Constitution so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a permanent, continuous, unbreakable right to have a say in how their affairs are managed.

The no case must be heard respectfully – so, that whatever the outcome – we as a community are more united, more understanding and we can move forward.

So, we will listen, inform, encourage debate and respectful dialogue.

And we will bring and maintain civility and respect at this crucial point in our nation’s future.

Surely, that’s the job of a leading university.

Western Sydney potential and the frontier

As I stand here today, Australia is on the cusp of realising its national potential to become a frontier economy.

A frontier economy that builds on our strengths and generates new forms of:

  • value
  • prosperity
  • new industries
  • new skills, and
  • new jobs.

And it does this through:

  • innovation
  • ideas, and
  • unleashing the potential of people.

I believe Western Sydney is – and will grow in recognition – as the place that defines the success of everyone who lives here – as well as the success of our nation.

Why do I believe that?

Firstly, because of what already exists in our own backyard.

Every second person in Western Sydney speaks a language other than English compared to about one in five around the rest of the country – that’s a regional, national and global strength.

This region has the largest concentration of small and medium-sized businesses. Almost 10,000 manufacturing companies are located here, many doing cutting edge advanced manufacturing – that’s a regional, national and global strength.

Western Sydney is known for its entrepreneurialism.

This is exemplified in our university’s launch pad which is a business incubator with a focus on female entrepreneurs – that’s a regional, national and global strength.

And if there is one achievement that sums up this region’s progress and potential – it can be found in the latest Census data.

Our biggest regional, national and global opportunity is that for the first time, the proportion of people in Western Sydney with a university degree exceeds the national average.

In typical Western Sydney style, that remarkable milestone passed – not with celebration, but a quiet assurance that even greater gains lie ahead.

The places that make up Western Sydney drive the nation.

Western Sydney is the nation’s third largest economy:

  • From the Blue Mountains to Fairfield
  • From Hawkesbury to Wollondilly
  • Through to Parramatta – which is now a global CBD in its own right
  • And the new city of Bradfield which will power up the new industries across Western Sydney supported by a 24/7 world class airport
  • This region is home to some of the most dynamic and vibrant places in the country.

They are magnets for people, investment and culture.

And in so many of these places, our campuses are helping rejuvenate communities and adding to the economic, cultural and intellectual life of Western Sydney.

A university that represents its community

I’m so proud to be chosen to lead this university because:

  • It encapsulates so many of my own personal values and aspirations.
  • It reflects the community it embodies, and
  • It sits at the centre of this regional powerhouse of global opportunity.

And just like the region, this university is:

  • agile
  • we’re youthful and vibrant
  • we’re entrepreneurial and energetic
  • we embrace our place in the world
  • we champion new ways of thinking
  • we are fast-moving
  • we are dispersed, and
  • we are innovative.

This university will continue to mirror what is happening in our community – because, as I said, we are part of it.

We are central to it. We are proud of it.

And I commit today that we will continue to play our role in deepening Western Sydney’s place at the epicentre of our national economy by:

  • building on our strengths
  • by helping to grow and commercialise new industries at scale
  • driving knowledge, culture and a sense of community
  • creating new jobs, and
  • finding new solutions.

Why this university?

In playing to our strengths and tackling the challenges of our country, this university is better placed than most.

Western Sydney University has reached a new level of maturity with 13 campuses and 55,000 students.

We are on the international map with key campuses in Southeast Asia and students from around the world.

International education isn’t a revenue stream.

It is a fundamental aspect of a university’s identity, its business model – and it is the most powerful form of soft diplomacy that this country has ever known.

Here in Australia, education is at a critical juncture because the country is at a critical juncture

– and it will be the skills and capabilities of our people who determine whether or not we seize the moment.

As the world faces new challenges, the way we work will rapidly change – so, how we learn will also need to evolve.

Now more than ever, people will need to be able to learn their entire lives.

They will demand shorter, more relevant courses on top of foundational knowledge.

I know this university is best placed to actively respond to those challenges.

In addition to our undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, we are leading the way in developing new micro credentials.

These will allow people to upskill more quickly – not just in traditional areas, but in new areas that will be central to an advanced economy and community wellbeing.

This university is leading the way in providing a combination of overarching and specialised qualifications – that combination will set students up for a lifetime of employment opportunities, and opportunities to give back to their region.

This is the university living its values.

I want every graduate to leave this university:

  • with a pathway to a job but also to feel that their lives have been enriched through the experience of studying here
  • with a network of friends, and
  • with the knowledge that we will be there with them for the rest of their lives.

And I want them to graduate knowing they are part of a great institution that will continue the crucial role of universities:

  • to impart knowledge and wisdom
  • to drive research
  • to encourage pure discovery – because not every idea is a patent – but every idea matters
  • and to further our national economic, intellectual and cultural growth.


For us to realise this ambition, we must and we can be the ‘go to’ university for business.

Working with business, we can create the new skills that make Australia – and this region – a magnet for investment and an engine of prosperity.

I don’t just say this because I’m the CEO of the Business Council – I say it because:

  • I believe in it
  • I believe in the evidence, and
  • I know it is true.

I want the CEOs of Australia and around the world to see this university as their first stop:

  • for the best graduates
  • for fit for purpose training and reskilling, and
  • for the most creative and applied research.

I want to pay special tribute to:

  • the President of the Business Council Tim Reed
  • former BCA presidents Tony Shepherd and Grant King, and
  • other prominent business leaders who are here today.

To get to the frontier and beyond, there is no more powerful partnership than that between business and universities.

The impact of that collaboration will be felt for decades.

Impact rankings

I’m immensely proud to lead a university that topped the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings – that’s number one in the world.

That’s an outstanding achievement – but I have some anxiety that Professor Shergold has handed me my first at risk KPI.

It will be a daunting task to maintain this ranking, but I know we are up for it.

In the rankings judges looked at how universities are:

  • safeguarding precious resources such as water
  • how they are protecting the environment
  • empowering women, and
  • how they are including people often ignored by society.

We will continue to live our values – to be the most sustainable, fair and inclusive university we can be.

But I want us to go further.

I want us to make this university the national centre of knowledge and understanding about sustainable development.

  • creating the courses, qualifications and research that position Australia at the global forefront of new technologies and new ways of living.

Gender equality

Another area where we excelled, and a personal passion of mine is gender equality.

I want us to be the powerhouse for women’s economic advancement, building a community of women in senior roles as well as a place where they can network, reskill and upskill throughout their lives.

I want us to reach into the schools and into the preschools and put women and girls at the centre of science and mathematics, alongside the arts and humanities.

I want us to be the place where we produce leading academics and researchers, and where we have a woman from this university win the Nobel prize within the decade.

Inequalities and barriers to learning

The university ranked fourth worldwide on the goal of reducing inequality and that is the ranking I am most proud of.

I commit today to continue Peter Shergold’s legacy of providing places and opportunities for asylum seekers and refugees so they can receive the very best education.

We will always be the place where they are welcome, and they feel at home.

Because they are not the boat people – they are people.

They have hopes, they have dreams, they have aspirations:

  • they are the doctors
  • they are the teachers
  • they are the tradespeople and the builders
  • the nurses and aged care workers
  • the pastry chefs
  • the artists
  • the sportspeople, and
  • the children who will shape this nation’s future.

In this university, and in our region, they will always be welcome.


And if we are truly to lead the way in tackling inequality, we must not forget that many people have missed out on the chance to go to university or even finish school.

For whatever reason, it was – or it felt - out of their reach and beyond their horizons.

I want us to be the university that reaches out – not just to help people get into this system but to help those who never dreamt it was a possibility for them.

I want us to be the place that offers people a second chance:

  • a way to discover or re-find their purpose
  • a way back into education, employment and their connection with the community.

And I commit today that one of my legacies will be to re-energise a whole body of work around making sure people can:

  • read
  • write
  • spell, and
  • use a computer, particularly for adults who have been excluded from so many opportunities because they have not bridged the digital divide.

I so often hear people say they failed school.

No, school failed them.

I vow that we will never allow someone to feel that they have failed in this institution.

Because we will not fail them.

Not on my watch.


But none of our collective aspirations can be achieved without working together.

So, I commit today that this university will do everything in partnership – whether that’s with business, the community or other institutions.

And when it comes to our future, we will do everything to deliver a sustainable business model – we will not wait for government to sort it out for us.

As a leadership team – and I acknowledge my many colleagues from our Board of Trustees who are here today – we know we are responsible for securing the legacy of this university and making sure it is still around in 100 years.

Surely, that is the greatest impact of all.

What does it really mean to have impact? Impact is personal.

But impact is fundamentally personal.

I want this university to continue to make an impact in the places where we are located and in the lives of everyone we touch.

As I’ve said, much of this region and this university, mirror my own values and aspirations for the future.

I’m proud to be chosen to lead an institution where nearly 65 per cent of students are the first in their family to go to university.

I too was the first in my family.

I stand before you as a kid who grew up in a public housing estate and today becomes the Chancellor of one of Australia’s leading universities.

Along with so many others who also grew up in public housing – such as Professor Glover himself and our 31st Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – education changed our lives.

Others could have written us off.

But it was an education system strengthened by Gough Whitlam – turning university education into an opportunity for the many, not the privilege of a few – that gave me and so many others the chance to thrive.

People like us are the encapsulation of the hope, ambition and aspirations of this university.

We are living proof that our education system and the sheer force of learning can open doors to new possibilities and opportunities.

University changed my life.

It gave me a world view.

An inquiring mind which is the greatest force for discovery.

It gave me a sense of community; it gave me a network of people.

I remember my first day when I walked into the library – albeit not at this university – daunted, fearful and overwhelmed.

To the day I walked out at my graduation ceremony – confident, ambitious and excited about the opportunities available to me.

Attending one of this university’s graduation ceremony’s last year, I watched so many young people taking their first step into the world.

I saw the pride of their parents, and for the students their mix of apprehension, hope, ambition, and aspiration.

One journey ending, another one starting.

The joy on people’s faces.

The young kid behind me who said, ‘here comes mummy’.

I want to make this university a place where people can feel at ease and where they too can thrive.

A place of excellence.

A place where they can be their best.

A place that when people see our logo – they say:

  • “I want to go there because this will change my life’’


Because education is the great enabler.

It is the single biggest driver of advancement, the greatest force for change and for good, and the principal instrument of social justice.

And I commit today that I will use all my energy and all my lifeforce to serve:

  • those ideals
  • to serve this university, and
  • to serve this place called Western Sydney.

Thank you.

Professor Jennifer Westacott AO