State of the University 2021

11th February 2021

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Last year, we witnessed the ANU State of the University address against the backdrop of a chaotic kick-off to 2020. It was also 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 (VC) Professor 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.

Come 2021, the overall environment is still somewhat uncertain. After all, 2020 was really something extraordinary, with the fierce wrath of COVID-19 wreaking havoc more intensely than anyone would have ever imagined. As Professor Schmidt aptly summed it up, “Let's face it, it was a year from hell...Fire, ice, contagion, anarchy; these things forced big changes upon us.”

So, as everyone enters 2021 with long-term fatigue yet a new sense of purpose, the question on everyone’s mind is, what will this year throw at us, and how do we move forward towards progress?

It is with this sentiment and mood that we listened in on the ANU State of the University 2021 address.

Establishing and upholding what is true…

Professor Schmidt took centre stage at this year’s address to reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—and the general global scenario—on the University and the education sector as a whole, as well as to outline his strategic vision and key priorities for ANU in the coming years. Delivering his address to staff and students in Canberra, as well as globally via livestream, Professor Schmidt reinforced the fundamental role that universities play in ensuring that in the tussle between truth and populism, truth triumphs. “Extreme forms of populism, at times and in places approaching fascism, have gained a dangerous foothold in our world,” and cited that “Of the great institutions that have traditionally comprised the ramparts of Australian democracy, only the universities have retained the public's trust.” As such, the VC stressed on the role of the university community to take on the special responsibility to show leadership. “Because they exist to establish what is true, universities are needed like never before.” He lauded faculty members and staff for their ability to adapt to a remote learning environment. He also expressed his admiration for how students kept on learning without the benefits of being on campus during the pandemic.

“We are entering an era when populism will have severe consequences for the entire planet. It has to be combatted. To think it will just go away is to wilfully ignore the lessons of history. We have to ask: who is currently looking after the health of our democracy?” – ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt

The road ahead: future focus

The VC then shifted gears to highlight four key goals for the near future. These were providing a student experience equal to the world's best; conducting research that transforms society; meeting our national responsibility through a renewed compact with the Australian Government; and being an equitable and inclusive university of choice. Stressing that learning at a university was much more than just ticking the boxes, a key goal would be to provide the best campus experience that we can provide. Professor Schmidt concluded stating that ahead of the 75th year of ANU in August, the University will launch its next Strategic Plan; he called for every single individual to participate in open consultations to shape this Plan.

Looking ahead with positivity: Honourable Julie Bishop

As Professor Schmidt handed over to the ANU Chancellor the Honourable Julie Bishop, audiences were reminded of the COVID effect, as she could join virtually from Perth due to lockdown measures, instead of being in Canberra. The University’s first woman Chancellor applauded ANU for its efforts in keeping heads above the water in 2020, and highlighted some of the positives that emerged from a crisis-ridden environment. She stated that the University commits anew to its mission in its 75th year, and that despite the change the world has witnessed in one year, the mission and purpose of the University remains unchanged.

“The way universities contribute to the world should be clear—we have the knowledge, the education and the people to make change and to encourage others to think differently in the interests of making a better world.” – ANU Chancellor Julie Bishop

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster