Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Summer 2017 Issue
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Chatting with the Vice-Chancellor

Warren Bebbington

Professor Warren Bebbington Vice-Chancellor and
President

Lumen caught up with Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Warren Bebbington, for a quick chat about his university days, music and steering the University of Adelaide.


What do you remember from your own days as a student, particularly extracurricular activities?
I became a university student in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War and the protest movement in universities. I was interested in student politics and was elected to the Student Representative Council quite early on, so this was my main extracurricular activity.
But they were very different times; my sister was arrested for breaking into the council chamber. There was warfare between what was perceived as them and us – the administration and students. The administration was seen, rightly or wrongly, as defenders of causes like Vietnam and the students didn’t approve.


You won the University of Melbourne Award for Excellence in Teaching (Humanities) in 2005. Do you miss teaching?
Through the Elder Conservatorium of Music, I still manage to do some teaching but I would like to do more. Teaching students is the most rewarding thing I do in a week, because the students appreciate it and are so responsive and it’s great to be out of meetings and back in front of a group of eager learners.


Tell me more about your background in music.
My mother played the piano at home and she and my grandfather sang so there was always classical music in the house. From the age of six I was in the church choir and it so happened the choir was conducted by a young chemist called Robin Batterham, who later went on to become Chief Scientist of Australia. He was an extraordinarily good role model for me in terms of combining academic and scientific pursuits with music.


What do you see as the main challenges facing the University of Adelaide?
The main challenge is to preserve a high-quality traditional university experience at a time when university funding is under attack. Government funding is at an all-time low and figures show that Australia is at rock-bottom amongst OECD nations in its public contribution to education.
The funding of universities in this country is in dire straits. There is an easy way out of this – you can have vast classes and save money on staff. But we are committed to a vision of small-group teaching. We’re committed to preserving a university, which requires funds. There needs to be a change of sentiment in the public at large.


What are your greatest achievements so far as Vice-Chancellor?
The Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences building. When I started, the government had decided to move the hospital away from the University. We didn’t have a site there and there was really no solution proposed.
Acquiring a site next to the hospital, securing the $60 million grant from the Commonwealth – which is the largest ever to a University in the State – and getting that building completed on budget and on time is a joy for me.

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