VC’s Update – Welcome to 2021

22 January 2021

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to 2021. Like many of you, my plans for the break were disrupted by border closures, and I was unable to travel to Sydney and Adelaide. Instead, I spent time around the farm, enjoying cooler weather than we experienced 12 months ago - and no choking smoke. To those of you who have been impacted by travel restrictions, I hope you have still been able to find time to relax and reset for the year ahead. These closures are a reminder to us all that COVID-19 remains in Australia and we must all be vigilant to keep the virus out of the ACT. I'd also like to thank Professor Sally Wheeler, who stepped into her new role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International Strategy) on the 1st of January, in a flurry of activity around domestic hotspots, and working with students and their families to reassure them that ANU is not only safe, it is a great place to study this year. Thank you Sally and team for your quick and considerate response.

With news of the UK strain of COVID-19 in QLD - which looks to have, thankfully, been contained - the Federal Government has changed the caps to returning travellers into Australia. This means the Student International Pilot Program, which we have been working very hard on for the last five months, is unlikely to proceed as soon as we had hoped. We've been looking at many options, from quarantine accommodation on campus or outside the ACT, to bring our international cohort back to campus safely. We're keeping in touch regularly with our international students and once we have more information, I'll share an update with our whole community. In the meantime, we'll continue to work with the ACT and Commonwealth Governments, along with the University of Canberra and the ACT Department of Health on options. The postponement of these plans is a reminder that we will continue to face challenges in 2021 with our community spread across the world. If you are speaking with peers or colleagues who are unable to be on campus, remind them that we are doing everything possible to come together as soon as we can.

Also in 2021, we've been successful in gaining government funding to offer a number of highly discounted places in an array of Graduate Certificate short courses. The courses must be completed in 2021 so this is a limited time offer to pursue discounted study. Education is a powerful tool to change your life, and I encourage any of our staff who have considered a postgraduate qualification to consider one of the many options we have available. A full list of the courses and how to apply can be found here.

Earlier this week, I spoke about the challenges of addressing climate change at the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF). It is easy in these times to say work on climate change and sustainability can wait - that we have more important things to do. But like the pandemic, delaying action just creates even more pain - with potentially unmanageable consequences - in the future. So I challenged the 500 students to come up with an idea of what the world should invest in with the COVID-19 stimulus to have the biggest impact in climate adaptation. I'll share the top five ideas with our Prime Minister because the world we are making are these kids future. They will be the ones who will have to adapt throughout their lives to the world we have left them - so I thought it fitting to ask them how we might get started now. I'm interested to see what ideas and creative innovations they come up with and I'll share them in a future blog. 

Tonight, I'll be speaking at a UN event on the challenges of tackling Climate Change and addressing several world leaders. Australia is a crucial part of addressing climate change, and we must provide our expertise and research to the world. My answer is that to address climate change, universities and other places of knowledge and science must play a crucial role to solve humanity's biggest problems. Tackling climate change is the clearest and most urgent example. I'll publish a copy of my speech to the website - and I hope it is a reminder that we all can make a difference if we set our minds to it.

Finally, I would like to remind our community about the upcoming university traditions in February - the Grand Graduation celebration, State of the University and the annual Commencement Address.

The Grand Graduation event will be held on Monday 8 February (3-4pm), with events held in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Beijing and Shanghai in unison. Although we can't hold physical graduation ceremonies, the Grand Graduation event will be an opportunity to mark this important milestone for our students. In particular, bringing the cohort of 2020 together - remotely and where possible, in person - to recognise the extraordinary achievements of completing their degree, and wishing them well as they go out into an uncertain and changing world. I invite all of our staff and current students to join the event remotely.

On Wednesday 10 February (2.30-3.30pm), the Chancellor and I will be delivering our annual State of the University address. This year marks the end of our current strategic plan, and the start of my second term as Vice-Chancellor. We have achieved a lot together in the last five years, but I want to reposition ANU for now to 2025, and for the next decade. All staff are encouraged to attend, either in person or by joining the live-stream.

Our final tradition in February is the Commencement Address, held on Monday 15 (11am-12pm), which opens Orientation Week for commencing students. This year, the keynote address will be delivered by The Hon Malcolm Turnbull, 29th Prime Minister of Australia, someone who has faced some interesting leadership challenges in a long and impressive career. Many of our commencing students will be unable to be on campus for O-Week, so they'll be watching via livestream. For everyone who is on campus, it would be great to see you in person and welcome our newest students. Starting university is a daunting experience at the best of times, and starting during a global pandemic will have many challenges. So let's welcome our students to campus and ensure from their first day they feel part of our community.

Stay cool this weekend, the forecast is looking hot and dry. I am bottling the 2019 vintage, picking apricots and just possibly, my first tomatoes!

Brian