Annual Report 2016

Professor Brian P. Schmidt AC FAA FRS
Published 2016

Message from the Vice-Chancellor

I am extremely proud to introduce the 2016 Annual Report for The Australian National University (ANU).

In many ways, 2016 has been a seminal year for the University. It is a year when ANU both celebrated its 70th anniversary and developed a new strategy to build its future.

The anniversary gave us the opportunity to reflect on what we have achieved over the past seven decades, to consider what has made this university great, and to pay our respects to some of the incredible intellects who have carried our name to greatness. People such as Professor Des Ball AO, whom we sadly lost this year. Professor Ball was one of our leading lights, being credited with successfully advising US President Carter against nuclear escalation in the 1970s.

Other intellectual giants across the seven decades include Frank Fenner, who worked with the World Health Organisation to end smallpox; Professor Peter Drysdale AO, whose work led to the foundations of APEC; diplomat Dr Coral Bell AO, one of Australia's most distinguished analysts of international politics; Professor Mick Dodson AM, who pushed for greater representation of Indigenous peoples and land rights; and Professor Carola Vinuesa, whose work is helping the world understand how the human immune system produces antibodies to fight diseases; among many others.

As this year was my first as Vice-Chancellor, I started out by involving the whole University community in forging a new Strategic Plan for the next five years. This process brought staff and students from across the University into a consultation process that involved forums and meetings and online technologies. For me, it was crucially important that everyone had the opportunity to provide input to the new vision and strategy. The new Strategic Plan will be released in early 2017.

Meanwhile, the University continues to achieve high accolades in terms of research and education, and 2016 was a successful year for us in many ways. I have included some highlights below, and many more can be found throughout this Annual Report.

We were very excited to play a key role in a global team that proved the existence of gravitational waves for the first time. This was a truly significant discovery and it will lead to many more in the future. It will also lead to technology spin-offs for the business and industry sectors.

Another key finding was the discovery of the world's oldest fossils, which point to thriving life existing on Earth 3.7 billion years ago. This discovery will change our understanding of how life develops on a young planet. As with gravitational waves, ANU played a key part in this ARC-funded research, along with a team from other Australian universities and the United Kingdom.

ANU has been very successful this year in terms of winning research funding. We received more than $43 million in Australian Research Council (ARC) funding for 91 proposals, including projects to help clean up space junk and support the repatriation of Indigenous human remains. We also were awarded NHMRC funding, including more than $15.6 million for ANU-led Project Grants and $850,000 in Career Development Awards. These achievements are a further testament to the high esteem in which the University is held, and allow us to produce more first-class research in the future.

In terms of education, it is great to see ANU is performing well and maintaining its standard of excellence as a provider of top quality education. In the Australian Awards for University Teaching, which reward the best teachers in the country, we received two this year from seventeen awarded nationally. Likewise, ANU is continuing to produce brilliant and inspired graduates who rank as the most employable in Australia. Part of our direction in our new strategic plan will ensure we continue improving in terms of education delivery and the flexibility of the degrees that we offer, and offering places to students from a wider diversity of backgrounds. We also have some very exciting projects underway to assist students into work environments during their education.

We delivered on our mandate to inform government and the Australian people on important issues of the day. Our experts took the lead in commentating on many national and international events, including the Australian and US elections, and appeared many times in the media in this role. In December we launched a report of a study of Australians' attitudes to democracy. The study was conducted three months after the election and the results were presented at Parliament House. 

Gender equality was high on the agenda and this year we strengthened our commitment to addressing it. This is an extremely important issue for ANU, and in March we became an inaugural member of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Pilot program. Through the SAGE initiative, we will review gender equity at ANU and identify areas for improvement. In August we strengthened this commitment, announcing that we will achieve a 50:50 gender balance in our leadership within five years, and our part in the SAGE project commenced in September.

Underpinning all our achievements is the need for us to provide state-of-the-art facilities for our staff and students. Being able to allow all first-year students to have the opportunity to live on campus has been one of my goals since I took up the reins as Vice-Chancellor. The announcement in July that Graham and Louise Tuckwell had made Australia's largest personal philanthropic contribution to a university, $100 million to build student residences, will give thousands of students this opportunity. This was in addition to their previous support which established the Tuckwell Scholarships. It was a magnificent legacy from the Tuckwells and one that will transform the experiences of ANU students for decades to come.

In 2016 we undertook a major review of the ANU School of Music. It is extremely important to me as Vice-Chancellor that the School of Music maintains its high reputation and that we ensure a strong future for it. To that end, we employed Professor Andrew Podger AO to review the School and to make recommendations. After his review was completed, in October we announced a $12.5 million investment in strategic funds to ensure the future of the School.

Another major announcement mid-year was a $12 million investment from the Australian Signals Directorate to fund a new cyber facility at ANU. We are very excited about this project, which will allow us to fulfil our commitment to working with government and industry to ensure that the skills needed for future challenges will be available.

We will continue to build on our 70 years of success into the future - to be the university that our founders always knew we could be. This means we will deliver the top educational experiences, research and public policy advice that this country deserves.

Professor Brian P. Schmidt AC
Vice-Chancellor and President

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