Tasmania’s Stories

Rathjen gifts a 'changed future'

Edition 184_Rathjen

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

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012-13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island's land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named 'Best Temperate Island in the World' by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of Mt Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world's biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the state's gross product in 2010-11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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