VC’s Update – COVID outbreak in South Australia & VC Awards

20 Nov 2020

Hi everyone,

This week, our Australian news has been dominated by the COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia, coupled with some states rapidly closing borders. South Australia has moved into a 'circuit breaker' lockdown to reduce community transmission. Although these types of outbreaks can be expected in our new COVID-normal world, it's a timely reminder that we each play an important role in keeping our campus and community safe. We need to take this seriously - practice social distancing, keep-up good hygiene and get tested (don't come into work!) if we're unwell. With South Australia's strong track record broken, here in the ACT - where things have been good - we also need to think about operating in a COVID-world and ensuring we can adapt if the situation changes swiftly around us. We should all be ready for a South Australia style lockdown at any time - but let's all keep doing our best to keep it from happening while making life as normal as possible.

In South Australia, they've had to hit pause on their international student return pilot program, which is disappointing - for them and us - as it was paving the way across our sector to return international students to campuses for 2021. I remain hopeful we'll be able to run an ACT pilot as soon as it is safe and approved, using the experience of our COVID-Response lead, Professor Tracy Smart - who amongst many things, coordinated the successful AFL quarantine hubs up in Queensland. My goal is clear: we will do everything we can to bring all our students back to ANU during 2021. This is a complex logistical challenge, and will be affected by things beyond our control. However, we have access to many of the best people in the world here at ANU, the University of Canberra, the ACT Government and the Federal Government. We continue to work closely together to create a solution which is safe for our students, and will have the absolute minimum risk for those of us already here in Canberra. I'll update you on plans to bring our international students home as soon as I can.

Last week, I had a small social gaffe that reminded me of the importance of clear and open communication with my colleagues - and that symptoms may not be what they seem. During a meeting with Professor Ian Anderson, I opened the windows in response to him sneezing - which exacerbated his hay fever. I also suffer from hay fever - on Monday I literally couldn't stop my eyes watering - so it was a good reminder that not every sneeze or cough is a sign of illness (though if you're unsure, please get tested!), and if you do remind someone to stay away if they're unwell, do it in a gentle and respectful way. Simon Haberle in CAP-CHL has taken his expertise in using pollen to understand the past to monitor and predict pollen here in the ACT. Try out - it is a useful resource to help manage your hay fever and asthma.

On Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of hosting the first virtual Vice-Chancellor's Annual Awards. I hosted a COVID-safe "table" in the Chancelry conference room, and was joined by the 2020 Chancellor's Award recipients - Professor Margaret Jolly, Professor Rodney Baxter, Professor Mick Cardew-Hall and Associate Professor Anna Cowan. It was a really special evening to celebrate some amazing staff achievements and I enjoyed seeing more than 200 colleagues across campus join the event to support our recipients, finalists and nominees. For those who missed it, you can watch the recording here.

Also in exciting news this week, Jane O'Dwyer, Vice-President (Engagement and Global Relations) has been appointed CEO of the Cooperative Research Centres Association (CRCA). The Association advances the cause of industry-university research collaboration, particularly through the Australian Government's CRC Program. Jane will be leading the organisation through its next phase, and I know will be a great advocate for cooperative research and its value to Australia. Jane continues in her current role until the end of the year, so please congratulate her if you see her on campus.

Finally, this week marks the end of the exam period for our students, many of whom are supposed to graduate in December. With COVID restrictions in place, we're unable to hold our physical graduation ceremonies, so instead, we're hosting a Grand Graduation celebration on 8 February 2021. I'll be sending formal invitations to our graduating students in the next few weeks, but this will be a chance to celebrate one of the most important milestones for our students, surrounded by friends and family. We know many students won't be able to attend the event in Canberra, so we're planning satellite hubs across Australia and internationally - no matter where you're located, you can be part of this celebration.

I hope you have a nice weekend. I'll be spending time with my family and preparing for Thanksgiving. Anyone know where to buy American wild-rice in Canberra?