Against the backdrop of a chaotic kick-off to 2020 to say the least, it was only fitting that the ANU State of the University address was highly anticipated by one and all. It was also going to be the first official appearance and address by new ANU Chancellor, the Honourable Julie Bishop. Eager members of the audience thronged the auditorium at Llewellyn Hall on campus in big numbers to hear what the new Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt had to say about ANU, its plans and vision for year ahead, especially in the wake of multiple disasters and crises posing real-time challenges for the vast majority of people.
The event suitably opened with a touching and hard-hitting address by Ngunawal Elder Uncle Wally Bell, who spoke of the ancestral spirits of Ngunawal Country and their presence around us as the nation sought guidance and direction in the aftermath of the unprecedented bushfire crisis that hit the nation in 2019—2020.
VC Brian Schmidt stated that Uncle Wally’s presence was a reminder to all that this great place of learning stands on the land where hundreds of generations of Indigenous Australians learned from each other. He spoke of his sense of pride at how what shone out was the resilience of our community through both the hail and the haze. His address encapsulated his perspectives on how the past year had gone, as well as his vision for the road ahead for ANU and the people of Australia. He emphasised with urgency that the University is at an inflection point—what might ANU look like in 2020, and what might we do to get it there?
Trust is our CurrencyThe VC’s words resounded strongly and sensibly as he went on to state that what defines us as a community is ultimately trust. Since 1946, integrity and trust are at the heart of everything we do and achieve. This trust cannot be taken for granted, and we must remember that it is this seal of trust that empowers each and every one of us.
“Trust is our currency, and we must work hard to keep it and achieve excellence in everything we do.” — ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt
The Road Ahead: Student Experience Accelerator and the KAMBRI ScholarshipThe VC then shifted gears to highlight some endeavours for the near future. He set the University the goal of delivering a student experience that is as good as the best in the world. In this context, he announced a new initiative to focus on—the establishment of the Student Experience Accelerator, a space where the community can collaborate in teams to try out new ideas and seek real-time student engagement and feedback. Brian also stressed upon the need for us to be better at embracing diversity and attracting Aboriginal and Indigenous talent. He cited that we should all be doing much more to make the University accessible to as many Indigenous Australians as we can. Toward this endeavour, the VC proudly announced a new sector-leading scholarship scheme—the Kambri Scholarships. These will provide any Indigenous student who has admission at ANU the financial, academic and pastoral support they need to thrive. The Council has committed to create an endowment of at least $50 million dollars, where the University will match dollar-for-dollar philanthropic gifts until we reach our goal. What’s more, the University has provided several million dollars of seed funding to ensure the program can start in 2020 itself. Last but certainly not the least, Brian spoke of leadership in yet another sphere that we needed to stand tall to—climate change. He called out the need for everyone to be trailblazers and pioneers and be part of the solution to lead the world. As a first step to achieving the ultimate goal, the VC stated he had already spoken to the ANU Climate Change Institute to convene a group of staff and students to investigate a pathway to becoming not only carbon-neutral, but carbon-negative at the earliest.
Trailblazer Julie BishopAs the new ANU Chancellor, the Honourable Julie Bishop, graced centre stage following the VC’s concluding remarks on trailblazers and pioneers, the chief guest received a well-deserved round of applause. Her very first official appearance and address at ANU was bound to be memorable. The first woman Chancellor of the University began with a warm note of appreciation for Uncle Wally Bell and for VC Brian Schmidt’s thought-provoking speech, as well as applause for his inspiring calls to action for 2020 and beyond. Ms Bishop went on to reveal a side of herself that most would not have been witness to, recalling how she spent much of her childhood in the shadow of bushfires that ravaged her family property and livelihood. Despite the challenges, she had the opportunity to pursue higher studies, which brought her to ANU and eventually led her on to the path of public service. Ms Bishop emphasised her desire to make this opportunity to be available to one and all, and spoke passionately of her vision to strengthen the higher education industry in Australia. She said she has always believed that Australia, a nation with one of the highest living standards in the world, should have at least one university among the top 10 educational institutions globally. ANU, she said, had the responsibility and the opportunity to come up with real-time solutions to benefit humanity. A pioneer of the original Colombo Plan that enabled 60,000 students to be funded to live and study overseas, Ms Bishop expressed her intentions to continue fostering and nurturing great ambassadors for Australia.
Achieving a carbon-negative environment, serving as leaders of diversity and talent recognition, and driving even greater academic and research excellence…these are some of the primary milestones that the leaders of ANU envisage for the near future. With such illustrious and experienced leaders at the helm, it is hoped that we as a community can come together to achieve the larger vision, one step at a time.