The year began with disaster – the destruction of five telescopes, seven houses, a heritage-listed administration building and extensive workshops at Mt Stromlo Observatory,and the University’s research facilities at Weston Creek in the Canberra fires of January 2003. The fires were a significant setback, devastating research capacity at Mt Stromlo, ending several research projects being undertaken at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, and destroying the homes of a number of staff and students. The University acted quickly to safeguard the Mt Stromlo site and to provide housing and income support for staff and students most affected by the fires. One of the outstanding achievements of 2003 was the coordinated effort of University staff and outside agencies to enable most Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics staff to return to work on the mountain just three weeks after the fire.
Considerable effort will be required to restore the research and education capacity of the Research School in coming years. The Federal Government gave the University $7.3million in additional funds to assist in the rebuilding of Mt Stromlo, and the astronomical, academic and ACT communities have all been generous with their donations of time and money.
As a counter balance, the year closed with the news that the University had been ranked equal 49th in the Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Institute of Higher Education ranking of world universities, the only university in the southern hemisphere to make the top 50, and one of only two Australian universities in the top 100. This was a signifi cant accolade for the University and for Australia.