Enlarge and download as a PDF | Source: Research income number from UNSW’s 2013 HERDC (Higher Education Research Data Collection) return

UNSW’s 2025 vision is to be among the 50 leading research-intensive universities worldwide, known for innovative, pioneering research with a global impact. This means giving equal weight to both discovery research and its application. The implementation of UNSW 2025 Strategy has only just begun but promises a new era where the University not only becomes a magnet for the most talented researchers and research students worldwide, but sees new partnerships established with industry, international organisations, governments and other leading universities.

With a commitment to helping create equitable and just societies around the world, researchers interested in sustainability are increasingly attracted to UNSW as a place where they can see their high-quality research having a real-world impact. A place where they can actively improve the social, health and economic wellbeing of people, particularly from disadvantaged and marginalised communities.

One of many initiatives in the Strategy 2025 is a recruitment drive to appoint world-leading researchers and rising stars. By 2025, UNSW will have invested more than $500M to recruit 290 Fellows and 700 PhD scholars. 

In 2017, there were 390 academics at UNSW with a declared interest in environmental and/or sustainability research. This is a significant increase of 160% from 2013.

Research alliances

UNSW is also forming strategic partnerships such as the PLuS (Phoenix-London-Sydney) Alliance. Formed in early 2016 between UNSW, King’s College London and Arizona State University, PLuS brings together three globally-focused universities to contribute to a sustainable future by collaborating in the areas of sustainability, global health, social justice, technology and innovation.

Research indicators

UNSW measures a number of research indicators that demonstrate the most active areas of interest for researchers at the University over the course of a year.

One of the top research topic areas in 2017 was Water, Environment and Sustainability which has showed an almost universally positive increase in sustainability related activities since 2013. Activities carried out under the umbrella of this research indicator:

  • netted over $42.5 million in research grants
  • led to the publication of 896, books, journal articles and conference papers


PhDs awarded (Completions)


Enrolments** (HDR Load)364398451436.6 
Total amount received for research grants (in millions)$33.20$35$30$30$42.4
Percentage of total income received by UNSW10.82%11%11.62%11.13%11.14%

Data is based on the HERDC (Higher Education Research Data Collection)

* Includes articles, books and book chapters, journal articles and conference papers
** Number of enrolled masters and PhD candidates
*** Rank out of 10 categories for the percentage of income received in total by the University in research grants

Research centres and institutes

Our academic staff and research students are at the forefront of sustainability research. UNSW has established or partners with more than 60 research centres and institutes in Australia and around the world that have a full or part focus on environmental, social or economic sustainability.

Water, climate and environment research focus

Expertise throughout these institutes includes: alternative energies and fuels; climate change; conservation and biodiversity; environmental modelling; marine biology and oceanography; microbial biofilms; rainfall, rivers and water; river wetland ecology; sustainable cities; sustainable materials and recycling; water use and re-use; and water purification.

Advanced Environmental Biotechnology Centre
ARC Centre of Excellence for Advanced Silicon Photovoltaics and Photonics
ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science
ARC Research Hub for Green Manufacturing
Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics
Australian Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices
Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure
Australian Poultry CRC
Australian PV Institute
Australia-US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics
Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence
Centre for Ecosystem Science Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute
Centre for Infrastructure and Engineering Safety
Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation
Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology Centre (SMaRT)
Climate Change Research Centre
Connected Waters Initiative
CRC for Greenhouse Gas Technology
CRC for Low Carbon Living
Evolution & Ecology Research Centre
Global Water Institute
Institute of Environmental Studies
National Centre for Excellence in Desalination Australia
National Centre for Groundwater Research & Training
Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation
Sino-Australian Research Centre for Coastal Management
Sydney Institute for Marine Sciences (SIMS)
The Environmental Research Initiative for Art
UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science & Technology
Universities Climate Consortium
UNSW Energy Research Institute
Water Research Australia
Water Research Centre
Water Research Laboratory

Social policy, government and health research focus

Expertise throughout these institutes includes: ageing and retirement; city planning; community medicine; criminology; defence and national security; disability policy and planning; drug and alcohol policy; human rights; indigenous policy; mental health; risk management and safety; and the social impact of disease.

ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research
Australasian Legal Information Institute
Australian Centre of Research Excellence in Offender Health
Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law
Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute
Australian Human Rights Centre
Centre for Big Data Research in Health
Centre for Eye Health
Centre for Primary Health Care & Equity
Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use
Centre of Research Excellence in Population Health Research
Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention
Centre for Social Impact
Centre for Social Research in Health
City Futures Research Centre
CRC for Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Forced Migration Research Network
Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law
Indigenous Law Centre
Industrial Relations Research Centre
Ingham Institute 
Initiative for Health and Human Rights
Lowitja Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health CRC
National Cannabis Prevention & Information Centre
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
Neuroscience Research Australia 
Nura Gili Indigenous Research Centre
Skin and Cancer Foundation
Social Policy Research Centre
Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation
Simpson Centre for Health Services Research
The Garvan Institute of Medical Research
The George Institute for Global Health
Transport and road safety
Victor Chang Cardiac Research Insititute

Economic research focus

Expertise throughout these institutes includes accounting; business and management; capital markets and finance; economics; law, governance and regulation; and taxation.

Centre for Applied Economic Research
Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets
Centre for Law, Markets and Regulation
Institute of Global Finance

Research centre highlights

Indigenous Law Centre

The Indigenous Law Centre contributes to the recognition, protection and development of the legal rights and freedoms of Indigenous peoples both in Australia and internationally. The Centre achieves this by conducting and disseminating innovative and high-quality research on Indigenous legal issues and through community legal education on issues of significance.

Australian Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices

The Australian Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices is recognised by both government and industry in Australia and internationally as a leading authority on sustainable mining practices. Key areas of expertise include mine site water, groundwater and seepage barriers; remote sensing to detect environmental impacts, subsidence and illegal mining; climate change adaptation and mining; and carbon management.

Global Water Institute

The Global Water Institute (GWI) is a world leader in water research, innovation and problem solving. Drawing on water expertise from seven faculties and 13 specialist centres across the University the Institute is Australia’s most advanced water knowledge hub. Research activities span an incredible variety of water-related fields but GWI’s researchers have one thing in common: they are driven by the urgent need to protect this essential resource in perpetuity.

Australian Human Rights Centre

The Australian Human Rights Centre aims to promote public awareness and academic scholarship about domestic and international human rights standards, laws and procedures through research projects, education programs and publications. The Centre brings together practitioners, research fellows and student interns from Australia and internationally to research, teach and debate contemporary human rights issues.

Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation

The Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation is a leader in fundamental and applied research in microbiology and ecology, particularly the interactions between microorganisms and their eukaryotic hosts. It is now recognised that eukaryotes (ranging from humans to plants to invertebrates) are not individual organisms, but complex communities comprising the host and their associated microbial communities. This realisation is a paradigm shift across much of biology, and is influencing studies of everything from the functioning of marine ecosystems to diabetes in humans.