VC's Update -- things I have learned as Vice-Chancellor

19 Feb 2021

Hello everyone,

When I started as Vice-Chancellor back in 2016, I started what I knew was going to be the hardest job of my life, because I was determined to help ANU get back onto a path which would secure its long-term future - to be a place that delivers on our national responsibilities like never before, while continuing to be a great place of research and teaching. A place that is unique in Australia, indispensable, and a university where people thrive, and where students and staff from around the world strive to be part of our community. We have come a long way down that path, and I thank everyone for their enthusiasm in support of this journey.

But the last year and a bit has been tough - there is no sugar coating that our community has been through the biggest collective challenge in our 75-year history. Personally, I still find the uncertainty exhausting and daunting, and I know most of us are finding it tough right now. But I get out of bed every morning and come to work because I know things will get better if we don't just focus on the challenges of today, but also start laying the groundwork for the future.

Looking around campus, I can see that many of our colleagues are experiencing fatigue, not just from the pandemic and the disruption to our daily lives, but as different parts of our community work through changes to how they operate, and in many cases say farewell to colleagues. My commitment to our community is to put you first, and to tell you openly what I know and when. Unlike some other universities, we will not have a surprise surplus - we will be one of the hardest hit universities in the sector. However, the over-arching changes we announced last year were realistic, and still look to me to be of the right size - so I would encourage you not to assume the worst. To get through 2021 we each need to be prepared to embrace the good, wade through the bad and keep focused on the future. And we need to do this together. Please check in on each other and encourage each other to seek help or support when it's needed.

For those of us lucky enough to be on campus - I have found this past week to be the most invigorating, in a positive sense, in almost a year. Our campus is alive with people. Walking around Kambri, or speaking at Monday's fantastic Commencement ceremony, I am reminded that ANU is an incredible place to nurture students and staff alike. Our students coming to ANU for the first time, or returning, here on campus or online, are a source of inspiration.

When you meet a new student, you get to feel the excitement of someone who is starting with us, and it is a truly heartening experience. So, I encourage you to take a walk around the campus, or hook up on a virtual forum for those who cannot be in Canberra - it reminds us why we are here.

I have also been reflecting on all we have achieved over the last five years. And my biggest learning as Vice-Chancellor has been that when we work together, what we can achieve is pretty extraordinary. In 2017, we set some ambitious goals as a community - to use our research to transform society, to embed equity in everything we do, to deliver an experience unique to our national university and to deliver on our responsibilities to our nation. And I am proud of the progress we have made.

We have invested in almost 50 brilliant early and mid-career researchers through the ANU Futures Scheme. We launched the Grand Challenges Scheme, funding Our Health in Our Hands, Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific, and Indigenous Health and Wellbeing. All three initiatives aim to address significant research challenges and deliver solutions to national priorities. We have undertaken sector-leading radical reform to our admissions processes to widen access to ANU for students from every walk of life. The Kambri Scholarships - a $50 million investment in scholarships for talented First Nations students anywhere in Australia - represent a landmark in Australian higher education. We hosted the First Nations Governance Forum in 2018 and the ANU Treaty Forum in 2019, two nationally significant policy dialogues in response to critical questions facing Australian society. We have expanded parental leave entitlements, providing our staff with up to 26 weeks of paid leave for both primary carers and their partners, allowing for greater flexibility for families within our community.

But fundamentally, each of these achievements has been built from the work of academic and professional staff working together across campus. And this is why I want you to be involved in the next strategic plan. It underpins what we do, and it needs to be something we're all committed to achieving together. So this means it needs to be written and informed by our community, not just by me or the ANU Council. You can engage through forums, an upcoming survey or submitting direct feedback, but the most important thing is for you to be involved.

I hope you have a good weekend.