As we approach the end of the year, it is worth reflecting on what has been both a remarkable and very busy year for ANU and the broader sector. It is important that we acknowledge the tremendous achievements of the University and so many of our staff and students over the year. Below, I have set out just some of the significant issues and achievements for the year in roughly chronological order.
1. The changing face of Alumni & Philanthropy
The year began with the announcement of the donation by Graham and Louise Tuckwell of $50M to establish the Tuckwell Scholarship program. In the months since the announcement a national call for applicants saw more than 600 students apply for the 25 scholarships on offer for 2014. These were all tremendously gifted students and hence the selection committee had a very difficult job in determining the final scholarship recipients. The quality of all the applicants was quite remarkable and the University pooled all its available scholarships to ensure as many as possible of these students would ultimately be supported to study at ANU.
The Tuckwell donation has had significant impacts beyond ANU and has transformed philanthropy in Australia with two further $50M donations to Australian universities. These gifts were inspired by the generosity and leadership of Graham and Louise.
The year has also seen a significant increase in philanthropic giving to the University. As at the end of October, more than $12M (excluding Tuckwell) had been donated to the University during the year. This compares to approximately $6M for the full year 2012. These are important donations which support students, education and research at ANU.
The year also saw ANU celebrate the success of our alumni with the inaugural Alumni Awards where Martin Parkinson PSM and Anne Gallagher AO shared the Alumnus of the Year award.
2. EdX and on-line education
In March, it was announced that ANU would be the first Australian university to join edX, the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) provider set up by MIT and Harvard. The first two ANUx courses being developed are in Astronomy and Astrophysics led by Brian Schmidt and on India, the first edX course to be delivered in multiple languages. These courses will be offered in 2014 and more will commence development during 2014. More generally, ANU-Online is being developed, where more of our full degrees will be offered in an online format.
3. ANU budget challenges
The biggest issue for the University during 2013 was responding to the financial situation resulting from government reductions in funding over the last two years and other external pressures. This posed significant budget challenges for ANU and we addressed these by a process which engaged directly with staff and students and sought their suggestions on how to address the issues. Importantly, we wanted to address the challenges we faced but not impact on the quality of our research and education. This led to the Budget Solutions package which will see a reduction in professional staff numbers and a program to reinvest in our academic staff. This has all been achieved in a voluntary process. Importantly, however, we also need to change the way we undertake many of our administrative processes. This is not only to save money but to improve the services provided to staff and students. This process involves a host of projects being co-ordinated by the Service Improvement Group. In many cases, it will take up to two years to put in place these changes. This will mean many of our processes will change and this will be challenging for some staff. Realistically, not all of this change will occur without challenges and there will certainly be lessons to be learned as we work through the process. It will be important for all staff to work in a collegiate manner as we undertake these important changes.
4. TEQSA re-accreditation
ANU was one of the first universities in Australia to go through a re-accreditation with the new Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). Towards the middle of the year it was announced that ANU had been re-accredited for another seven years. Importantly, the re-accreditation report was a “clean bill of health” recognising the quality of our education and the processes put in place by Colleges and Academic Board. The re-accreditation process represented an enormous amount of work for many staff and the University is grateful for their dedication.
5. Change of government
The change of government has signalled that the next few years will certainly be characterised by restrained government spending. Early signs have, however, indicated that there is a good understanding of the importance of Australia’s universities to the nation and the economy. In one positive announcement, the government has indicated it will not proceed with the proposed changes that would cap the tax deduction for self-education expenses at $2,000. This announcement has been widely acknowledged throughout the sector.
I often state that international rankings are very blunt instruments. However, as the media are very focused on such rankings, we cannot ignore them. Therefore, it was pleasing that ANU continues to be ranked in very good company in all of these systems.
7. Enterprise Agreement
In October, it was announced that the University and unions had reached agreement on a new Enterprise Agreement. This agreement has been agreed to by staff and provides reasonable salary increases for staff over a four-year period and streamlines a number of our internal processes.
8. Research grant success
November saw the announcement of the main round of Australian Research Council (ARC) grants. The results were very positive for ANU, particularly for the main Discovery projects where ANU won more grants than any other university. When one puts together all the ARC schemes announced through the year: Discovery, Linkage, DECRA, Future Fellows, Laureate Fellows etc., ANU has improved its position relative to the rest of the Go8. For 2013 we will win almost the same amount of total ARC funding as the Universities of Melbourne and Queensland. This is an improvement on recent years and a remarkable achievement when one considers that these institutions have almost twice the number of staff as ANU.
This ARC success also built on the announcement earlier in the year that ANU had won a grant of $25M from AusAID, one of the largest grants of its type ever received by the University.
9. Major construction projects
The year also saw the completion of the major Science Precinct redevelopment. This major redevelopment has greatly enhanced the quality of facilities for both our staff and students. The China and the World building is also on track for completion early in 2014. These projects, together with others completed in recent years, have transformed the built environment of many areas of the campus.
10. Honorary Degrees
In November, the University recognised international achievement by conferring honorary degrees on Vice-President Boediono of Indonesia (13 November) and leader of the Burmese opposition Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (29 November). This week Indonesian Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Dr Mari Pangestu also received an ANU honorary doctorate.
In such a busy year with such an enormous amount of change, I would like to express my gratitude to staff across the University for their dedication and quality of work. The success of the University depends on the quality of our staff.
Professor Ian Young AO