Emeritus Professor Ross Milbourne AO
About the speaker
Ross Milbourne completed his Bachelor and Masters degrees in Commerce at the University of New South Wales in 1971 and 1974 respectively. He was awarded his PhD in 1978 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was under the supervision of the Nobel laureate George Akerlof. Establishing his international career he worked at Queen’s University in Canada from 1978-1988. During this period he took up two prestigious short term appointments as Reserve Bank of Australia Senior Fellow in Economic Policy (1981-82) and Visiting Professor to the London School of Economics (1985-86). In 1989 he returned to Australia as Professor of Economics at the University of New South Wales.
Professor Milbourne’s excellence in research underpinned his appointment to the Australian Research Council (ARC) Social Sciences Panel in 1994 and Panel Chair in 1995-6. From 1997-2000 he served as Chair, Research Grants Committee and a board member of the ARC. In 1995 in recognition of his scholarly standing and service to research he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia (FASSA).
Professor Milbourne was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Technology, Sydney in 2002 having played leadership roles in Australian universities since 1997. These positions were: Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Adelaide (1997-2000); Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), UNSW (2000-01); Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), University of Technology, Sydney (2001-02).
Professor Milbourne is recognised internationally as an economist and researcher who has had considerable influence on education, research and innovative policy. As a Board member of Universities Australia (UA), he has played a pivotal role in the determination and formulation of public policy, and advocating on behalf of Australia’s universities. Also, through his leadership role with the Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN) he has supported an emergence of an influential, innovative and strategically positioned network of universities across Australia. The esteem in which he is held by the Australian Government is evidenced by his appointments to major policy-oriented committees and reviews and the award of the Centenary Medal in 2001 for service to Australian society through economics and university administration.
When Professor Milbourne took on the role of Vice-Chancellor at UTS he was faced with the challenge of how to create a profile and reputation for research and teaching in a recently-established university. UTS has made great strides in world rankings and the University’s achievements and success against these ratings and rankings is greatly due to the initiative and drive shown by Professor Milbourne.
During his time at UTS, Professor Milbourne engaged with and addressed many aspects of the university’s administration, academic and local community issues and oversaw and supported initiatives to improve outcomes for indigenous staff and students. The establishment of the Vice-Chancellor’s Industry Advisory Board in 2009 ensured that teaching and research programs remained industry-relevant. His personal commitment to equity greatly assisted the University in receiving a citation from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWWA) every year since the award commenced in 2001. In 2009 he was named Australia’s Leading CEO for the Advancement of Women. Under Professor Milbourne’s guidance, the University has created teaching and learning programs and experiences that prepare graduates for professional careers in the global markets.
Professor Milbourne has led a major development of the physical campus and the University’s infrastructure to provide world class and innovative facilities for the next 20 years and beyond. The physical precinct includes an iconic building designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Professor Milbourne has repeatedly demonstrated his passion for Higher Education, and his deep belief that everyone should share equitable access to education, particularly at a tertiary level. He forms visionary goals and inspires others to believe that they are achievable. Energy, compassion and commitment are hallmarks of Professor Milbourne’s reputation nationally and internationally, and they are integral to everything he does.
Professor Milbourne has ensured that UTS has built its profile as an innovative university that meets the current and future needs of industry and the community.
It is a great honour for the University of Technology, Sydney to award Professor Ross Milbourne an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University (honoris causa) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the achievement of the University’s mission, as well as enhancing its reputation and standing at a national and international level.
Chancellor, Professor Vicki Sara
Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs
Current and former members of the University Council
Senior executives and my former colleagues
Members of the University staff
And most importantly graduating students and their families and friends.
During my 12 years as VC, I have watched over 100,000 students come across this stage. Each student and ceremony was special, but you will forgive me if I say that this one is very special. I am honoured to be awarded an honorary doctorate, and especially pleased to be back at the University I love.
I begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation on whose land this campus stands, and acknowledge through them the learning that has taken place on this site for thousands of years. I am proud of this University and what it stands for – the promotion of critical thinking, leadership and service; the promotion of equality and social and environmental responsibility, and I hope that you stay true to these principles.
This University is also proud of you and so are your parents. In fact they will probably never be more proud of you than today, so it is a great day to ask them for a new car, a holiday, a loan, whatever.
Occasional speakers are asked to reflect on their career and offer advice. I have three pieces of advice – first see this as the start of your learning and embrace new skill development during your career, second take the plunge and take yourself out of your comfort zone when the opportunity arises and third, back your judgement.
When I went to University, it was a different world. Only about 5% of students expected to go there, Universities were free, we were on full scholarships, which makes your achievements very impressive compared to ours, and simply outlines the hypocrisy of our leaders who like me enjoyed free education and now seek to impose extreme financial barriers on those seeking likewise. We knew that we could walk into any job we wanted.
My career started with a rather embarrassing light bulb moment. I was in a subject called Pure Maths 3 with a wild Irishman as lecturer, Prof Kelly. The Tuesday morning lectures were hopeless, but the Thursday afternoon ones were brilliant. I just thought he wasn’t a morning person until a classmate saw him at the faculty club at lunch throwing down a few pints of ale. It hit me, any profession where alcohol improves the performance has to be seriously considered!
I am not sure you should take that as part of your decision making process. But the points about life-long learning and taking the plunge is because you are all going to end up in careers very different to now, some of which have not even been invented yet.
I never imagined that I would be a VC. As an undergraduate, my VC was very remote and never seen by students, in fact I probably didn’t even know what one was. After graduating with my PhD I went to my first academic appointment and sat in while the VC gave a welcoming address to the incoming students and staff members. It was extraordinarily long, boring, full of aggrandisement and pomposity. Fortunately, it was not long after the release of the movie TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE which became a cult classic among those students and the long lecture was cut short by a chant starting from the back of the room and moving forward CHAINSAW, CHAINSAW, CHAINSAW. I left that room absolutely certain that this was not a job I had the remotest interest in.
I also want to emphasise to back your own intuition even if you can’t explain to yourself why you have a particular view. At the time, UC Berkeley had the greatest collection of mathematical economists in the world, and I had a choice of supervisors. Instead of choosing some of the really well known people, I chose a young professor just 3 years out from his own Ph.D. Everyone said I was nuts, but I knew that he was brilliant and went after the really big questions. I backed my own judgement and I was right. Some years later he won the Nobel prize.
The final message I want to leave you with is about your responsibility. While you are about 30% of your age cohort who have gone to University in Australia, worldwide, and in the increasing globalised communities in which you will work, University graduates represent only about 5% of the population. You are even more fortunate than that – you have graduated from a University ranked in the top 1% of Universities world wide. So you have had an educational experience of the top 1% of the top 5%. You should reflect on that, and the support you have been given by your families friends and the University staff. My advice to you is to use that privilege to do some good in the world, not just in advancing your career.
The world is becoming a more unequal and fractured society. First, underpinning the rising inequality in incomes is the rising inequality in educational opportunities and outcomes. All State governments are cutting back on public education and funding for TAFE and other skill development opportunities. Federal Governments of all persuasions have been cutting per student funding to Universities and increasing the student burden. And no-one has seriously tackled the under resourcing of preschool and early intervention programs. These come back to haunt us in the form of large pockets of disaffected and disengaged youth and the immense social problems they bring.
In this respect the last budget proposals were a shocker – taking money away from low income families, increasing student fees and debt but giving tax breaks to wealthy retirees and individuals. What idiot could possibly believe that taking money away from people when they have little and giving it back to them later in life if they are wealthy could possibly be good economic policy!
So my plea is for you to use your education to support the educational ambitions of those who come after you.
A second fracture is between science, research and rationality on the one hand versus blind ideology on the other. We are increasingly seeing this in climate change, the theory of evolution and other social issues – massive amounts of evidence and credibility on the one side versus blind assertions with no credibility on the other. Yet social media gives them equal weight. So please use your education to weigh in on these arguments and restore rationality to public debate.
I say these last 2 points because at the end of the day, when you look back on your life and career, as you do when you get to my age, you realise that its not the amount of money or toys you have or the number of people you have on Facebook or Twitter, it’s what you have done to make the world a better place. I want every graduating student here to be able to look back on their life and say “I was a good person”.
I should end now, lest the chants of CHAINSAW start at the back of the room. Good luck today in getting your new car or holiday out of your parents, enjoy the day, and I wish you every success for your future careers.