Universities are only as strong as the communities they serve

Local partnerships have been the key to our ability to deliver meaningful impact – as the THE Impact Rankings highlight, writes Clare Pollock

June 3, 2024
Wakeboarding in Penrith
Source: iStock/PomInOz

What does it mean to have impact?

At Western Sydney University, delivering positive and meaningful community impact sits at the core of everything we do. It is our mission and an articulation of our values, and, for 35 years, it has motivated us to improve lives through education, opportunity and investment in the community. 

We are a young, dynamic and energetic university specifically established to serve and advance the people of Greater Western Sydney, one of the fastest-growing and most culturally diverse regions in Australia. More than 170 languages are spoken here, and we cater to a higher proportion of first-in-family and under-represented student groups than any other university in Sydney.

Our impact centres on our profoundly ingrained commitment to access, diversity and equity. The region is undergoing significant social and economic transformation and we are immensely proud of our small role in seeing higher education attainment rates in Western Sydney now exceed the Australian average.

So, while respected rankings are a critical touchstone, signalling to the world where a university stands, their value lies in their capacity to motivate and inspire excellence and constant improvement. 

In an uncertain era of post-truth and declining global trust in institutions, the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are a timely reminder of the crucial importance of universities as beacons of fact, inquiry, critical thinking and civic purpose. 

The rankings underscore that to continue to be relevant, higher education institutions around the globe must remain anchored to these foundations while adapting as the world changes. For us at Western Sydney University, this means never forgetting we are on Indigenous lands and acknowledging that learning, teaching and research have occurred here for millennia.

Western Sydney University’s constant evolution makes us more agile and better placed to meet the community’s changing needs, priorities and aspirations. It also means we can play our part in helping to overcome the defining global challenges of our times.

The 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which we excel, reflect our connection to our local community and, increasingly, to our global locations. 

We know we are only as strong as the communities we serve in Australia and in our locations in Indonesia and Vietnam.

At a local Western Sydney level, we are addressing urban heat and climate resilience. Our electricity supply across all Australian campuses is now 100 per cent GreenPower accredited, and we are Climate Active certified as carbon neutral. 

Our world-leading education and research programmes and collaborative international partnerships are making a significant impact on reducing inequality, advancing gender equality and addressing issues such as food and water security around the world. 

Our location in Western Sydney – a region interspersed with Australian bushland and waterways – and the multicultural make-up of our communities, with their connections to the rest of the world, mean our deep and long-held commitment to sustainability is a natural fit. 

Since its inception, the THE Impact Rankings have provided a vehicle to recognise our efforts. It enables us to offer potential students, staff and partners a measure of our progress in improving social justice, the environment, innovation and equity. 

Western Sydney University’s strategic plan benchmarks for impact, including using KPI targets from global rankings agencies. We believe our communities want to see real, on-the-ground action, not rhetoric. Many students, particularly international ones, increasingly want to be associated with a university that is committed to the planet in the same way they are. This is us. 

In many ways, twice earning the world number one position in the THE  Impact Rankings reinforces that Western Sydney University is on the right path.

For us, it highlights that how we have always worked – through sustainable and practical ways in partnership with our communities – is the key to our ability to deliver positive and meaningful impact. We must continue refining how we listen, pivot and deliver what communities, including our students, staff and partners, want and need.

This means being at the forefront of local and global issues and providing solutions. It means being a driving force in the social and economic transformations under way in places such as Western Sydney. 

It means working with our partners to develop new global industries, well-paid jobs and cohesive communities. It means delivering the best possible higher education experience and equipping people with knowledge, research and the lifelong skills to thrive. Achieving these gains is how we continue to realise our purpose of impact.

Clare Pollock is interim vice-chancellor of Western Sydney University.  

Browse the full results of the Impact Rankings 2024

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