Vice-Chancellor launches the ANU 2025 Strategic Plan

2 August 2021

Good morning everyone and welcome to the launch of our ANU 2025 Strategic Plan.

Before we begin, I would like to invite Aunty Matilda and Paul House to welcome us to Country.

[Aunty Matilda and Paul House deliver Welcome to Country] 

Thank you to Paul and Matilda for that warm welcome to country.

I would also like to celebrate and pay my respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of the Canberra region and to all First Nations Australians on whose traditional lands we meet and work, and whose cultures are among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

How marvellous to hear our motto 'first, to know the nature of things' rendered into the Walgalu Wiradjuri language.

The original motto is written in Latin, which is regarded as an 'ancient language', but wasn't even created until 18 or 19 millennia after Indigenous peoples first walked this land we now call Canberra.

Our respect for that traditional knowledge is boundless - because of what it tells us about the human condition, spirituality and the land we live on. And there is so much more to learn - now that we have truly started to listen.

We're proud that ANU has among its alumni eminent national leaders like professors Marcia Langton and Megan Davis who have done so much for the first nations cause. And we're proud that our students were there lending support to landmark actions in the history of our country like the establishment of the first Tent Embassy in Canberra.

I also want to acknowledge today may be a hard day for some of us. It is the anniversary of the Human Rights report and you may have seen the signage on University Avenue demanding ANU does better. Today, I want to say - I, and the University continues to listen, continues to learn and will continue to act. I acknowledge the pain and distress this must cause for many of you.

 

ANU75

Paul's address shows us that the traditional cultures and modern university cultures are united by the same thing, a very human thing: the unquenchable desire to understand.

The First Australian's have been seeking to understand the world for tens of thousands of years. ANU has been at it for just 75.

But they are 75 years we can be proud of.

You can only achieve as much as we have in so short a time through intellectual excellence.

Australia is blessed with many fine universities. All serve our country brilliantly.  But the ANU has a special role as Australia's national university.

Our history reflects the story of post-war Australia.

We were founded on 1 August 1946 with the participation of four Australian intellectual titans: Howard Florey, Marcus Oliphant, Ross Hancock and Raymond Firth.

Our first degree, awarded in 1951, was to Sir Robert Garran, one of the founding fathers of Federation.

Our first undergraduates arrived in 1960.

And our first woman Professor - of mathematics - Hanna Neuman, was appointed in 1964.

The first ANU student to become Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, studied here in the 1950s.

And the second, Kevin Rudd, in the 1970s and 80s.

Our chancellors have included some of the most eminent statesmen our country has produced - including now the 38th Foreign Minister of Australia, Julie Bishop.

Our work has raised up our democracy, government, public policy, economy, culture and the welfare of our people.

It gives Australia a global voice. And empowers Australia to be part of the leading edge of the creation of scientific knowledge. That is why we have been so successful as a place where Nobel Prize winners actually did their work -  Eccles,  Harsanyi, Doherty, and Zinkernagel.

Our globally-renowned scientists sit alongside some of the finest economists, philosophers, engineers, anthropologists, historians and others on a campus the size of a village.

Their work has shaped modern Australia in significant ways.

The great opening up of Australia to the world that began in the 1980s, culminating in the founding of APEC, was a co-creation between ANU policy experts and the Australian Public Service. A pioneering group of economists from ANU played a crucial role.

Critics and historians like A.D. Hope and Manning Clark helped create our nation's modern culture and narrative. Wang Gungwu connected Australia to the re-emergence of Asia to our north.

Thinkers and strategists in international relations such as Coral Bell and Des Ball whose ideas and research didn't just change perspectives, but gave ANU a seat at the decision-making tables on the great issues of our time, including nuclear warfare.

These are a few examples of the thousands of ANU people who have changed our world. Many people sitting with us today have, or will.

On that note, I would like to share a snapshot of some of the incredible work our academics are undertaking.

[video plays]

So inspiring! The University we create over the coming years will shape the contribution they - and you - can make.

That's why I'm proud today to launch our new Strategic Plan, ANU by 2025, which you have all helped develop over the last six months. A simple one-page guide to the Plan is available here today.

It summarises where we will focus our efforts over the next five years: renewing our national mission to keep education and research at the service of the nation, to transform our society and deliver greater national capability. 

And our Plan sets the twin goals of delivering a student experience equal to the world's best, and making ANU an equitable and inclusive university of choice for teaching, research and professional staff. 

We simply have to succeed. 

In a world of pandemic... climate change... profound economic, social and gender inequalities... the spread of populism... the weakening of global institutions... and rising global tensions... ANU's work is needed more than ever before. 

Without it, democracy is imperilled, peace is uncertain, and millions of lives are placed at risk.  

Where would our world be right now without the research work of its universities? 

How dire would our circumstances be if university laboratories hadn't so rapidly understood the nature of Covid-19, developed vaccines against it and trained health professionals to lead the fight against it?  

This is one of the great human triumphs of our time. And it happened because since the Second World War - since the founding of ANU - nations have had the foresight to invest heavily in universities, the knowledge they produce and the human capital they train.  

The world has been given a wake-up call.  

And that wake-up call is this:  first know the nature of things. Only by first knowing the nature of things can we can be fully armed against anything nature throws at us.   

So on this 75th anniversary of the ANU, I want to reach out to the Australian people to say this: ANU is here to serve.  

Believe in us, support us, give us your trust, so we can first know the nature of things as the initial step to creating a better nation and a better world. 

Help us create the knowledge that will allow us to generate the new ideas needed to create:  

New partnerships with industry to increase innovation, prosperity and jobs. 

New understandings to keep the Asia-Pacific peaceful and democratic. 

New and better practices in health and social policy. 

New technologies to decarbonise the global economy.  

New and better engagement with First Nations peoples. 

And new ways to make artificial intelligence work ethically and in the interests of humanity.  

There's so much practical good we can contribute to increase the prosperity and wellbeing of Australians and the people of the world. That's why our Strategic Plan sets a goal for the university of creating at least one major transformational societal outcome that has its origins in our academic work. This may be a major scientific discovery, a public policy innovation, or a new piece of research that is translated and commercialised. I am still determined we create our first 'unicorn' (!) - and if we do, it will repay the nation's investment in us many times over. 
 

Freedom of speech and respectful debate 

One of my personal goals as Vice-Chancellor is to give everyone who comes here a great academic experience. 

I want to offer stimulating teaching, do truly ground-breaking research, engage in fearless intellectual discussion, make lifelong friendships, and  enjoy the sheer fun that comes from being in a great campus university in the heart of a sophisticated capital city.  

To do this, we need to maintain our great liberal academic culture, which rests on the crucial principle of academic freedom. 

As we confront the next five years of ANU's history, we must therefore be clear about just what academic freedom means and how it has been practised successfully here for 75 years. 

Academic freedom starts with university autonomy. As a university we must be free to control our internal affairs, regulate our own debates and set our agenda free of outside interference.  

Academic freedom also means the freedom to investigate and publish, free of censorship or threat. 

And it means having a right to respectfully disagree with others including other members of our own university.  

Note that term: 'respectfully disagree'.  

Disagreement does not stop intellectual progress. Neither does competition. Expressed through civilised debate, both are essential parts of an intellectual eco-system conducive to discovery.   

What stops intellectual progress dead in its tracks is unreasonable, incessant and often cynically contrived conflict. 

The current pandemic is instructive on the value of these great academic traditions we have inherited. 

Following the emergence of Covid-19 there was a race among global laboratories to understand the virus and develop an effective vaccine against it. The stakes were high, but the level of respect, cooperation and sharing of scientific information between the competing medical research teams was strong and genuine. The results are there for everyone to see. 

That's how knowledge advances. Through competition, not conflict. Cooperation, not division. Respect, not abuse.  

Some people regard conflict as an end in itself. They believe that unless freedom of speech on campus is constantly pushed to its very limits, regardless of the consequences, it's not real.  

I disagree. Conflict is not what universities are about. 

You don't have the right to abuse and attack others on a university campus. You have a responsibility to debate them peacefully, respectfully and fully.  

To continue their great work for humanity, universities need to create an academic culture that allows freedom of expression without abuse and aggression.  

Unbounded inquiry. Freedom of expression. Strong debate. A sometimes competitive environment. And a respectful culture that protects everyone's freedom to pursue ideas.  

These are our standards. And we will have zero tolerance for behaviour that falls below them. 


Entry based on potential 

Another crucial principle for universities is having a just admissions system. In my view, the most just admissions system is one based on an individual student's potential.  

In our unequal world, in which those with great natural abilities are often unfairly held back by personal circumstance, achieving equity is seldom straightforward. 

But it must be our goal. 

ANU is the only research university in the country whose intended student catchment zone is the entire nation.  

Every year, young people join us from right across Australia.  

North, south, east, west, every state and territory - they come to Canberra. 

This is what makes us Australia's national university. And people right around the world recognise this.  

Yet, I often find myself questioning whether this goal of representing the entirety of Australia is ever entirely fulfilled.   

The reason is simple and obvious: moving interstate to study is expensive. Living at home costs far less. It's far easier to stay in your home town and go to the local university.  And why not? We have many good universities here in Australia. 

I suspect that many young Australians capable of getting in to ANU fail even to consider applying because calculations like these are so daunting. 

They can still dream of a good education and get it - but maybe by dreaming a little cheaper - rather than coming and studying here at ANU where they can sit alongside a cross-section of some of the nation's brightest scholars.  

I think it's time we addressed this. 

In recent years the ANU has made great strides forward in attracting the best young minds based on potential. 

A great example has been our Kambri scholarships for indigenous students. 

Another has been our innovative new admissions policy that offers places based on year-11 results. 

We must do more. 

That's why between now and 2025 we will be putting in place policies to ensure no student who has what it takes to get into ANU will need to dream cheaper and choose somewhere else. 

A new scholarship program will offer successful applicants a place to live on campus in their first year and provide crucial financial and pastoral support for the rest of their degree. 

Money worries should no longer be a reason a talented Australian cannot study at their university of choice - and especially their national university. This is a simple and bold idea.   

We will be the first to fully realise it. 

We also need to ensure that our teaching staff are selected on potential. That means having active recruitment policies and plans that aim for gender equality.  

The gulf in opportunity between the genders in Australia remains wide, despite all the gains made in recent times. And this includes in university careers. 

In many disciplines women's participation at the highest levels is shockingly low and in some of those disciplines they depart at two to three times the rate of men. 

I can recall when my own discipline of astronomy had no continuing female staff members. There's still a long way to go in so many disciplines including astronomy, but progress has been made.  

With real effort, employment equality is possible and within our reach. Decisive action is needed to hasten the rate of change.  

That's why, from today, the university will be asking each academic school to develop a plan that leads to gender equality within an agreed time frame using the novel workforce modelling Professor Lisa Kewley has developed and featured in Nature earlier this year. Each school will have a different time horizon and path depending on their circumstances. Equality can be obtained sooner than you might think - it certainly will not be achieved unless we take long-term action.  

And of course, our charted course for the next five years includes our commitment to addressing climate change.  

I don't have to spell out to you the urgency of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I'm sure you've all been watching the extreme global weather events of recent months.    

The new ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions has been established to bring knowledge to bear on the global crisis. The inclusion of 'Disaster' in that title tells you all you need to know: the Anthropocene is already here. We have to stop its disastrous consequences from worsening. 

As a public institution, ANU has to find solutions and set an example. As a self-governing community, we can show the world what's possible.  

For that reason, one of the most important goals of our Strategic Plan will be to advance our Below Zero Initiative.  

Our goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025 and carbon negative by 2030 - by cutting our own fossil fuel use and boosting carbon sequestration to off-set the emissions we can't avoid. 

We will also of course aim to make a difference on a global scale through the quality of our climate change research. 

This will be a whole-of-ANU strategy.  

Already, we have replaced gas boilers with renewably-powered electric heat pumps.  

We have our first free electric charging station on campus - part of understanding energy use dynamics. 

And we are working closely with ACT Government on a partnership to cover climate change and energy issues.  

Indeed, one of the best examples of our important work here is the newly-launched Distributed Energy Resources Lab.  

This new lab will help build a greener and climate change resilient electricity grid for Australia.  

This lab is a genuine testing bed to test the new technologies that will underpin our energy grids of tomorrow, today.  

It will see business, government and researchers make sure renewable - cleaner and greener - technologies work and deliver on their incredible potential.  

It is just another example of how ANU 'spark' drives change in our world for the better.  

 

Conclusion 

As the Chancellor and I state in the foreword to the new ANU Strategic Plan, creating ANU was a courageous and visionary response to a time of crisis - one that also focused on the future.  

That crisis was the Second World War. 

We now live in a new era of crisis.  

Just a few years ago, 2021 with its pandemic, extreme weather and other troubles would have seemed almost dystopian.  

The answer today is the same one our founders recognised 75 years ago: First, to know the nature of things. 

In other words, to advance human knowledge. Solve problems. And build understandings between people. 

All achieved through the maintenance of the great liberal tradition of academic freedom and through intellectual cooperation, knowledge sharing and mutual respect. 

These sorts of things are easy to say, but here at the ANU we've been doing them every day for the last 27,000 days. 

And in doing so, we are demonstrating our continuing relevance and creating an exciting place in which to teach, research and learn. 

Now - I would like to welcome Rosemary Clifford to speak.   

Rose completed a double degree in Arts and Psychology (Honours) in 2018, and is now completing her PhD in Psychology here at ANU.  

Rose is a very passionate advocate for mental health - drawing on her own personal experiences with mental health struggles to help inform research proposal and grant applications, as well as assisting in the education and professional development of Occupational Therapists and Psychologists in the ACT.  

Rose co-designed a number of mental health education programs which have been rolled out across Canberra to help our youth. She volunteers with Mental Illness Education ACT, and assists Lifeline Australia by answering the crisis hotline.  

She was also the 2020 recipient of the Young Canberra Citizen of the Year. 

You have done some incredible work in this space Rose - you are helping to change the lives of many young Australians in the ACT.