Please find below the speech given by Professor Brian P. Schmidt AC at the 70th Anniversary celebrations for ANU in Llewellyn Hall, 1 August 2016.
Happy Birthday ANU!
Where we stand today is part of a landscape that local Aboriginal people lived in and managed for more than 21,000 years. There were open savannah grassland with eucalypt forests and a trickling creek leading to a river. The landmarks we know today like Black Mountain, Sullivans Creek and the Molonglo River were used by Aboriginal people as pathways to navigate across the landscape and bring them together in ceremonial meeting places.
And I pay my respect to Aunty Matilda and all the other elders, past and present and I thank them for allowing this great meeting place of ideas and thought to be located here.
What a wonderful group of speakers we’ve heard from this morning.
ANU people who have been part of shaping modern Australia and the modern world.
People who embody what it is that makes this University such a great community to belong to.
Megan Stoyles reminds us that academic freedom is the most fundamental of values that helps define a University. The creation of new ideas, the challenging of old ideas and debating of competing ideas is the very basis for our existence. And the ability put forth our ideas with conviction to change the world in which we live.
I’m proud to celebrate with you today the 70th anniversary of this extraordinary institution. I know many of you, like me, have spent much of your student and working life as part of this community.
And I’m so proud to share this stage today with three of the twelve Vice-Chancellors who have led this great institution: Professor Dean Terrell, Professor Ian Chubb and Professor Ian Young. The work of each of you has substantially contributed to the reputation we hold today as a university of international renown. On behalf of this community, I want to thank each of you, and I personally want to thank you as the three Vice-Chancellors over my 21 years at ANU.
This place nurtured me. It gave me an opportunity to push the boundaries as a young researcher. It provided me with the environment I needed to develop and grow through the stages of my career, to learn and to be mentored by those who came before me.
I said on this stage in February that my ambition as Vice-Chancellor is to pay that forward. To foster a culture where we can all reach our full potential. Where excellence is cultivated, expected, understood and celebrated. A culture that attracts the best and brings out the best.
This is a unique institution. Our foundation in 1946 attracted little fanfare – we garnered just a few paragraphs on page 5 of The Canberra Times. But it was a nation building project of unique proportions.
The idea of a national university that would bring credit to our nation and help Australia take its place amongst the nations of the world was little more than a lofty ambition.
Big things do not necessarily have glorious beginnings. They require patience. They require persistence. And they require an unassailable belief by a community of people that they can build something extraordinary together. This is what happened with ANU.
By October 1949, our founders were transforming an empty paddock into a university. The foundation stones for the John Curtin School were laid by Prime Minister Chifley. By 1950 our first academic staff had arrived and found themselves working in temporary buildings as campus construction began. By 1952 the first permanent buildings of the University were finished.
We stand here in 2016 at the university they imagined, but didn’t get to see. A national university that by its 70th anniversary counts amongst its community nearly 100,000 alumni, 23,000 students and 4,000 staff. A national university that has risen to be one of the world’s great institutions. A national university that has populated the academic staff and leadership of Australian universities, building the foundation for one of the strongest university systems in the world.
We are part of the university where Sir John Eccles did his Nobel-prize winning work on synapses in the 1950’s. Where John Harsanyi did his Nobel-prize winning work on Game Theory in the 1960’s. Where in the 1970’s Peter Dougherty and Rolf Zinkernagel made their Nobel-prize winning discovery of how T-cells attack viruses, and where in the 1990’s, I was part of the Nobel-prize winning discovery of the accelerating expansion of the cosmos.
These breakthroughs didn’t happen at ANU by chance, nor did any of many equally important advances we have made. I know from my own experience, they happened because this institution created an environment that allowed something big and unexpected to occur.
I don’t say this lightly or frivolously.
There is a reason that 4 of the 5 Nobel Prizes won for work done at an Australian university, were for work done here. It is the same reason that we count a long list of achievements as an institution. From Frank Fenner’s leadership in eradicating smallpox, to playing a key role in the development of digital synthesisers, leadership in the development of the field of demography, modelling of photosynthesis, discovering the DNA sequence related to Lupus, and I could go on and on and on.
Fostering an environment and creating opportunities for research that changes lives, that changes knowledge and that changes society is fundamental to who we are, and who we want to continue to be. If we are able to realise our collective vision for the ANU, a catalogue of iconic works, advances, and discoveries will follow, enriching and improving life here in Canberra, in Australia, and around the world.
Our 70th Birthday is a day to both celebrate our past and to commit to our future. We are still a young institution. Those of us here today have the privilege of writing the next chapter of this university’s history. We have the responsibility to hand to coming generations an institution even greater than the one we have inherited.
In my first 7 months as Vice-Chancellor, I have had the chance to talk with more than a thousand of you about our ambitions for the future of ANU:
Our collective vision is clear:
• We want to be a university and a community that thinks big and bold, that is audacious in its ambition
• We want to be a university that stands and is counted amongst the best in the world
• We want to be a university that is distinctive in its service to the nation and the world
• We want to be a university that brings together students from across the country, the region, the world, from all social and economic backgrounds. That brings them together in a community of learning that gives them the grounding and confidence to change the world
Together we are mapping out a plan for the next 10 years of ANU, a plan that will ensure that we leave a great legacy for future generations.
Today, as part of our birthday celebrations, I’m delighted to announce some initiatives that are a down payment on that plan. These initiatives have come from your contribution to the discussions about our future, and set us on the path of building the university to which we all aspire.
Research is the heart of all we do. Our research informs our education, it shapes our policy contribution and it transforms the society in which we live.
If we are to cement our long-term place as one of the world’s great universities, we need to retain, recruit and support some of the best researchers in the world.
We will attract some of the very best researchers in the world by providing substantial start-up grants for high-potential early and mid-career researchers, enabling us to compete against any institution in the world. These funds will also give these researchers the freedom to embark on their big ideas at the height of their creativity, free of the constraints of overly conservative grant funding. This investment is really an investment in the long-term future of brilliant people and in the long-term future of this university.
ANU already offers an educational experience like no other in Australia. An ANU education extends well beyond the classroom, through to our campus cultural and community life, our residential experience and the international experiences we offer many of our students. We will build upon this unique experience to make sure that an ANU education sits comfortably amongst the top ten in the world.
Professor Bruce Chapman changed the way this country provides affordable access to university education, an initiative adopted by many nations.
ANU will lead the country in changing the way that universities admit students. Students applying to ANU will be considered on the whole person, not just their ATAR score.
Students applying to ANU will have co-curriculum and community contributions recognised as part of their entrance criteria. Our scholarship program will be national and take into account outstanding academic results, non-academic achievement and financial need. These changes will be implemented over the next several years, and will enable students applying to ANU to also apply for scholarships and accommodation, all at the same time.
We will celebrate the achievements of our most outstanding teachers through the award of Distinguished Educator. This award will recognise great teaching and provide funds for these educators to further extend their teaching and share their knowledge across the University.
ANU will extend the residential experience for which it is renowned. By 2021, we will provide any student who wants to live on campus the opportunity to do so, including postgraduate students and students with children.
And for our students who already call ANU home, from 2017 we will extend the current best pastoral care ratio to all of our undergraduate residential communities. This means every undergraduate residential community will have a Senior Resident for every 25 residents.
And whether you live on – or off campus you will appreciate revitalisation of Union Court as the beating heart of the University community. It will be home to enhanced student and staff services, dedicated event spaces, and new sporting and recreation facilities.
We will show the nation and our international peers that outstanding research and teaching go together, building campus-wide learning and teaching spaces and creating next generation approaches to education in the transformed Union Court precinct.
Union Court will bring Canberra to our campus, and be full of life from early morning until late into the evening.
You heard this morning from Professor Mick Dodson, one of Australia’s great leaders.
The research of Professor Dodson and his many colleagues across this campus on Indigenous issues is a foundation of this university. One upon which we must now build a program like no other in Australia. One where we become partners with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in bringing about reconciliation. One where ANU becomes the university of choice for Indigenous Australians.
We will launch a Post-Doctoral Fellowship program for Indigenous PhD graduates that is designed to develop academic careers and lead to faculty positions. This program will build a substantial Indigenous research and education community that is essential for us to fulfil our mission, including generating Indigenous-led research which informs and influences government policy.
The Tjabal center, led by the endlessly energetic Aunty Anne Martin, is the heart and soul of the campus experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. We commit to ensuring it has a secure long-term future at this University.
As the national university, our world goes well beyond the borders of our campus. We need to take our research to business, government, and civil society. And we need to bring business, government and civil society to us.
We will lead Australia, creating a new paradigm for Australian universities working as partners with business, government and civil society.
We will launch an Entrepreneurial Academics Program that will bring people who excel in research and in business to ANU so that we can all learn from them. I can promise you some exciting announcements about this in the not too distant future.
From next year, students in any ANU undergraduate degree will have the opportunity to complete a major in ‘Innovation and Professional Practice’. This major will comprise a new suite of Vice Chancellor’s courses to be taught by experts across the university and from business, the innovation sector and government. We will also be offering a Master of Innovation and Professional Practice as well as a suite of courses aimed at our PhD students.
We will do these things in partnership and with guidance from the business community. I will be appointing a Business and Industry Advisory Board to provide me with the critique and advice we need to improve how we work with business. I am delighted to announce today that Brian Hartzer, the CEO of Westpac, has agreed to serve as our Chair.
ANU is renowned for our impact on public policy. Our academic staff have advised and influenced government across every aspect of public policy. But we can do more to pull the excellence in policy research from across our university and apply it to the grand challenges facing our world. We will establish a cross-campus forum that, while supporting the role of the Crawford School of Public Policy as a central focal point, will bring together all the strands of public policy at ANU and act as a policy incubator.
ANU people have played an enormous role in changing the position of women in our society. While women like Elizabeth Reid and Susan Ryan changed the way the world is for women in Australia, I am sorry to say that our university does not yet deliver equal outcomes for women and men.
While considerably more than half of our students are now women, women still do not progress to the senior academic levels of the University at the same rate as their male counterparts.
ANU commits across the entirety of the University to the Athena SWANN diversity program pioneered in the United Kingdom. While it is no magic bullet, we have the ambition of achieving what only a small handful of universities have managed – a Silver Award within 5 years for STEM disciplines, and an equivalent level of achievement in non-STEM areas over the same period. Only 7 universities in the UK have achieved a Silver Award in the program’s first 10 years, and none yet a Gold award.
My experience as well as a broader body of evidence tells us that diverse leadership is good leadership. Over the next 5 years, ANU will hire a 50:50 gender balance in leadership roles across the University, including Head of Schools, Directors, Deans, the University Executive, and administrative executive.
I benefitted from leadership in action from one of the women on this stage. Professor Penny Sackett, the first woman to lead the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, was confronted as Director by the most devastating of events. We lost almost everything on Mt Stromlo in the bushfires of 2003. But Professor Sackett led us out of the ashes and quickly turned our focus to not just rebuilding, but to building something bigger and better.
Thirteen years later, the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics is now the strongest it has ever been, and continues to stand amongst the best in the world. It shows the capacity of ANU to overcome obstacles in our way and reach new levels of excellence.
But by far the strongest message I heard from all of you was the desire for us to be one ANU. To work as one community. To draw on our collective strength to lift ourselves higher.
We will move to create an ANU that is a truly collegiate institution. Over the next year, we will undertake a program across campus to identify ways to transform ANU into a University noted for its collegiality and renowned for its ability to draw across campus in all of its activities.
These initiatives announced today are designed as part of our larger ambitions, and a down-payment on building the ANU to which we aspire: Collegiate. Audacious. And Excellent at all we do.
Today we thank our forebears, and the giants of our history upon whose shoulders we now stand, and we start the work on the legacy we will leave for future generations.
Happy Birthday ANU – And thank you all.