Rathjen gifts a 'changed future'
UTAS's visionary and politically effective Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen, will leave the State at the end of 2017.
He will return to his alma mater, the University of Adelaide (UoA), as President and Vice-Chancellor.
UTAS Chancellor Michael Field said Professor Rathjen, 53, “had led a transformative phase for the university”.
“From the early days of his tenure Professor Rathjen led a concerted effort to lift and better articulate our university’s research excellence,” Chancellor Field said.
“This included a targeted program to recruit scholars of world standing in areas of research strength. We have seen our national and world standing lift tangibly as a result.
“He has provided the vision and impetus for key infrastructure developments, including the National Rental Affordability Scheme student apartments in Burnie, Launceston and Hobart, and the emerging Hedberg cultural and performing complex, collocated with the majestic Theatre Royal.
“It was his vision which led to the proposal of university campuses embedded physically within their city hearts, improving profile and access for young Tasmanians, as a means of addressing two historic impediments to educational attainment in Tasmania.
“Professor Rathjen has been at the forefront of conversations nationally about innovation in higher education, of the affordability and relevance of university qualifications.
"These notions are now deeply embedded in the development of [UTAS] and its offerings in the associate degree space.”
The Mercury named Professor Rathjen number two on a 2016 list of the State's most-powerful people and he has been able to persuade State and Federal governments to back his ideas from their budgets.
The Australian's Higher Education Editor, Julie Hare, wrote: [Professor Rathjen] has a reputation for his ability to lever funding from State and Federal governments.
"In the lead-up to last year’s Federal election, Professor Rathjen secured commitments from both the Coalition and Labor for $150 million towards his rejuvenation plans in northern Tasmania.
"He also won further money for a plan to create a new science precinct in the centre of Hobart, alongside a medical school, arts precinct and student accommodation.
Professor Rathjen's proposed STEM campus in Hobart's CBD has been listed as a priority by Infrastructure Australia.
The President of the Tasmania University Union, Clark Cooley, said: “Professor Rathjen’s legacy will be a forever-changed future for Tasmania.
"He leaves behind a strong vision of what Tasmania can be when it embraces education.
“Professor Rathjen’s vision for ‘university cities’ will be his longest lasting legacy — a vision that has the potential to transform our major cities into thriving places for business and commerce, creative arts and design, medical research, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
Professor Rathjen said his career decision had been a difficult one, but his move would represent a home-coming.
The Rhodes Scholar and acclaimed stem cell scientist was born in Britain and grew up in the Adelaide Hills after his family emigrated in 1965.
After graduating from the UoA and completing his post-graduate studies at Oxford he returned to work at UoA for 16 years until 2006.
He then spent four years at the University of Melbourne and nearly seven years at UTAS.
Professor Rathjen described Adelaide as "a formative part of my own story”.
He said: “It was from the University of Adelaide that I graduated with my first degree, and where I held my first research and leadership roles.
"My extended family is [there] and my family’s original farm is located in the Adelaide Hills.”
Professor Rathjen's father, Dr Tony Rathjen, was a highly respected teacher and plant breeder whose work helped advance the national wheat industry.
Chancellor Field, who was Tasmania's Premier from 1989 to 1992, said the transition in leadership at UTAS would be undertaken with an emphasis on stability and continuity.
“Changes in leadership are part of the usual course of events for long-standing institutions, but they invite reflection for each successive period,” he said.
“Without doubt, Professor Rathjen has led a transformative phase for the university and we face the future built on a set of foundations which will serve us well in the years, if not decades, ahead.
“Professor Rathjen has navigated a complex and mercurial period in which the relationship between the university and its State have been fundamentally re-imagined and redefined.
"This process has been on-going and will continue to be, but it was clearly manifest in the signing of the historic agreement with the Tasmanian Government, which bonded the efforts of the university with the vital economic and social outcomes required for our State’s future.”
Mr Cooley said: “As the university undertakes a process to select a new Vice-Chancellor we’ll continue to advocate for a replacement who shares the vision of the limitless potential for this State when it puts education first.”
Image courtesy of UTAS
6 June 2017, Edition 184