University of Melbourne confers six honorary doctorates

A group photo of the six recipients of University of Melbourne honorary doctorates
Honorary doctorate recipients from left to right: Professor Sir Peter Donnelly, Mr Leigh Clifford AO, Dr Francis Gurry, Professor Colin Wilks, Dr Mark Schipp and Professor Allan Fels AO.

A leader in the genomics revolution, a virologist who has driven public health reform in several countries and a miner who went on to oversee an iconic Australian airline are among six honorary doctorates conferred by the University of Melbourne this evenings.

Joining them was a renowned leader in competition policy, an eminent veterinarian and policy maker, and an architect of the global intellectual property system.

University of Melbourne Chancellor Mr Allan Myers AC QC congratulated the six recipients of the University’s highest honour, a doctoral degree honoris causa.

“An honorary doctoral degree is recognition of outstanding achievement in a field of endeavour, consistent with the values of the University of Melbourne,’ Mr Myers said at the in-person ceremony at University Hall, Old Quad  on the Parkville campus.

“It is awarded to a person whose work has transformed our understanding of the world and the lives of many people.

“The purpose of today’s ceremony, honouring each of you, is to emphasise the extraordinary value that the university places upon this degree, and your exceptional achievements.”

The six graduates are:

  • Mr Leigh Clifford AO, Doctor of Laws (honoris causa): One of Australia’s most accomplished corporate leaders as well as a qualified mining engineer, Mr Clifford graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Engineering (Mining) and a Master of Engineering Science. He began his career as an assistant surveyor underground, in Broken Hill, but went on to lead with distinction two of Australia’s most iconic companies, Rio Tinto and Qantas. He helped develop and promote Australia’s international trade and export markets, identifying China as an important market for Australian resources. He is a strong supporter of the arts and continues to make an impactful contribution to industry and society.
  • Professor Sir Peter Donnelly, Doctor of Science (honoris causa): Sir Peter is foremost among researchers whose work has underpinned the genomics revolution of the last two decades. His fundamental insights into modern genomics/genetics have elucidated a new understanding of the genome and its role in biology and human disease, and enabled countless other research projects. He has recently pioneered the use of whole genome sequencing in clinical medicine, work which has the promise to transform diagnosis, patient care and the development of therapies.
  • Professor Allan Fels AO, Doctor of Laws (honoris causa): A leading global figure in competition policy, Professor Fels was Chair of the Trade Practices Commission from 1991 to 1995 and Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission from 1995 to 2003. He was Foundation Dean of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government and has played a major role in mental health policy, including as chair of the National Mental Health Commission, and as a Commissioner of the Victorian Royal Commission on Mental Health.
  • Dr Francis Gurry, Doctor of Laws (honoris causa): Dr Gurry has been a leader in the development of a balanced and effective global intellectual property (IP) system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all. During 35 years of service with World Intellectual Property Organisation – the Geneva-based United Nations (UN) specialised agency for IP services – Dr Gurry held a range of positions, including Director General from 2008 to 2020, when he was the highest-ranking Australian in the UN system. He obtained agreements between more than 150 states that resulted in global treaties which have had a huge impact on the moral interests of performers and the visually impaired.
  • Dr Mark Schipp, Doctor of Veterinary Science (honoris causa): A veterinarian who has achieved exceptional distinction in the field of animal health and welfare, Dr Shipp is a celebrated advocate and representative for the veterinary profession, providing national and international leadership as the current Australian Chief Veterinary Officer and as President of the World Organisation of Animal Health (the OIE). During his career, spanning 30 years to date, he has led and enabled the development of major national animal health policies and initiatives to safeguard Australia’s animal health status. He is an advocate for a One Health approach that recognises the intricate inter-dependencies among animal, human and environmental health sciences.
  • Professor Colin Wilks, Doctor of Veterinary Science (honoris causa): Internationally recognised for his work in veterinary virology and public health, Professor Wilks has helped advance veterinary science through his work as an academic and government veterinarian. He has also driven public health improvements in many low- and middle-income countries through his consultancy work for the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. His international “public practice” has assisted authorities in many countries to control significant diseases of humans and animals.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell said:  “These honorary doctorates recognise the outstanding contributions by six people to several academic disciplines, as well as service to professional and public life. I offer my congratulations to the graduates, each of whom has received the University’s highest honour.”

Today is the first time the University of Melbourne has held a ceremony for honorary doctorate recipients only. Since 1868, honorary doctorates have been awarded either singly or as part of a ceremony for University graduands.

Old Quad, where the ceremony took place, is the foundational building of the Parkville campus and endures as the strongest connection to the University’s fledgling years.

An extensive restoration, completed in 2019, returned the 160-year-old North Wing and areas of the East Wing to their original design, allowing for the display of items from the University’s cultural collections.

The ceremony is one of the many events marking the beginning of Semester 1, with students and staff returning to the University’s campuses after two years of remote teaching, learning and working.