In my Overview in last year's Annual Report, I commented that 2005 had been a very successful year, with some notable achievements. In 2006 we built on those successes, continuing to build a solid foundation for the future of the University in a very competitive tertiary environment, generating a wide spectrum of important intellectual, cultural and social contributions to our region and to New Zealand.
A major theme this last year has been the delivery of international excellence for the benefit of New Zealand and our local region. Our key objective is to provide excellence in teaching and research, and to benchmark ourselves against the best.
We are well on the way to achieving that objective. In January, we received an external academic audit report which commended us for our good practices and our programmes of continuous improvement in the three areas of teaching quality, programme delivery and achievement of learning outcomes. That same month, the Waikato Management School joined an elite group of Business Schools worldwide with accreditation to AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. This is the oldest quality assurance body in management education, and its accreditation confirmed that our offerings are relevant and substantial, and compare favourably against the best qualifications in the world.
Later in the year, a new framework of qualification structures that will significantly enhance academic study options for students was approved. This is a first in New Zealand and represents a university-wide approach to individual students' academic programmes and genuine interdisciplinary study. It enables students to much more easily tailor their subject choices to their employment aspirations or interests.
The Strategic Plan was an important step forward for the University in 2006 and now guides planning at all levels in the University. Since it was signed off by Council in June, we have embarked on an intensive programme of work on its implementation, and special effort is being made to ensure that staff throughout the University are involved in delivering success. One of the outcomes has been the identification of the need to review all our support services. The possibilities for alternative models are very exciting and, most importantly, we look forward to the prospect of not only improving the quality of our operations, but being able to free up a significant proportion of our resources so that we can invest them instead on our core business of education and research.
Our next step will be to move forward with the development of an Academic Plan for the University. This will consider the future mix of subjects that we offer, where investments should be made and where new subject areas should be introduced. As part of the budget process, a strategic fund has been established in order to facilitate new investment.
This is particularly important this year because of the "Investing in a Plan" approach which the government is emphasising as part of the new funding method to be introduced for tertiary institutions. The government's forward commitment to funding will give us greater financial stability. Through our strategic planning processes, we are articulating more clearly what we see as the role of this University in the New Zealand tertiary sector.
As part of the implementation of the Strategic Plan, we have also expanded our engagement with external stakeholders. Over the course of 2006, we had regular meetings with key business people in the region to discuss the challenges facing the University. This has helped to give them an understanding of our operating environment, and to better equip them to help by applying their business acumen to the issues that we must deal with.
During the year, seven new projects by University of Waikato researchers received support from the Marsden Fund, New Zealand's premier funding for ideas-driven research. In 2006, our staff submitted the highest ever number of research grant applications, and the University achieved its highest ever research grant income. It is notable that benchmarking techniques used in the USA have shown that our commercialisation activity, which converts our research into profitable businesses through WaikatoLink, is at the top of the league table with the very best American universities.
In November, the Council gave the go-ahead for an ambitious $55 million capital works programme. This will enable us to embark on two major building projects which represent the largest ever investment in our campus. These will be of enormous benefit to future generations of students and staff. It is intended that the new buildings will be iconic and will change the nature of the University. They will contribute to our distinctiveness and establish important "points of difference" for the University as we move forward in an extremely competitive tertiary sector.
The Council has also committed to a new era of sustainable presence in the western Bay of Plenty region. The University has plans to expand high demand undergraduate and degree courses, invest in new courses and cater for future growth, and establish a research presence in the Bay. Following our analysis of skills and capability needs in the Bay of Plenty, and discussions with a wide range of regional leaders, the University concluded that a new generation university presence was needed. This will involve not only the provision of taught courses, but many other components that are unique to the ways in which a university contributes to wealth creation in a region. We have embarked on discussions with a broadened range of community leaders, commercial sectors and local representatives in the Bay, as well as decision-makers nationally, on the nature and location of the proposed new facility.
On a sad note, in August, together with the rest of the nation, we mourned the passing of Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the respected leader of the Waikato-Tainui iwi and Māoridom for 40 years. Dame Te Ata had been an inspirational supporter of the University, which of course sits on Tainui land.
In December, we formally welcomed the new Māori King Tuheitia to the University at a powhiri at Te Kohinga Mārama Marae. It was the King's first visit to the University since he ascended to the Kingitanga throne in August.
A variety of very successful Alumni events were held during 2006. The nature of Alumni and Foundation activities is changing in line with the need to adapt to the new external environment and the changing strategic priorities of the University as it matures. For example, the Foundation will become more outward looking and more effectively linked into the University's external communities. Alumni activities will be more focused on the fostering of lifelong relationships with Alumni, delivering excellent services and supporting fund-raising activity.
We made a number of important Honorary Doctorate awards, of which three were particularly high-profile. We recognised Sir Howard Morrison's outstanding service to the community, particularly in the areas of Māori education and business development, and his enormous contribution to important community endeavours over a long period of time. New Zealand's most famous son, Sir Edmund Hillary, was honoured by the University with the award of an Honorary Doctorate for his outstanding contribution to environmental conservation, education and humanitarianism. Also awarded an Honorary Doctorate was former University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Bryan Gould in acknowledgement of his contribution during the ten years he served as the University's third Vice-Chancellor.
I feel extremely positive about the year ahead. The enthusiasm and energy of my colleagues is very affirming. 2007 will be a year of re-defining and strengthening the University.