The Universities Australia Conference is an unparalleled place for discussion, debate and knowledge-sharing about Australian higher education.
This year’s conference—held in late February—was themed ‘Education changes lives’ and looked at how universities nurture hope and transformation in people and communities
Economist Professor Justin Wolfers kicked off with an exploration of the outlook for the global economy—what’s likely to unfold and what it means for universities. Our insurance against a world that is changing too fast he said, is critical thinking. He reminded us of how universities enhance the productivity of nations—by producing human capital and through fundamental research.
The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG meditated on the role of universities in modern democracies and civil society. He reflected on his journey through higher education, noting that his university experience was as much about the community he was part of as it was the coursework.
Universities Australia Chair and Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry AO gave a speech to the National Press Club, in which she urged Australians to act on the advice of fire chiefs, scientific researchers and public health officials because “their expertise is our best defence against future terrors”.
Dr Emma Johnston AO FTSE hosted our conference dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House. During the evening, we met one of the three winners of the Australian Awards for University Teaching and announced the winners of Universities Australia’s Pitch it Clever research communications competition. Former Universities Australia Director, Strategic Communications, Misha Schubert, discussed the contribution the universities make to the nation during times of crisis—with Edith Cowan University’s Associate Professor Erin Smith and Professor Ross Andrews from The Australian National University and Menzies School of Health Research.
Professor Genevieve Bell AO, Director of 3A Institute at The Australian National University, shared her thoughts on how to best take artificial intelligence to scale responsibly and ethically. She spoke about preparing graduates for jobs of the future and reminded us that employers want people who can handle ambiguity and change, who have empathy with others and who can find and tell a good story.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng from South Africa’s University of Cape Town shared her leadership philosophy and her insights on the role of all leaders in higher education. She challenged us to do things differently and to risk failure. The rewards that come with risking failure are great if you are successful.
Universities UK President Professor Julia Buckingham CBE shared her thoughts on higher education in the UK at a time of seismic change. She observed how much the Australian and UK higher education sectors have in common
Education Minister Dan Tehan and Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek both addressed the conference, sharing their priorities for higher education in 2020.
In our final session, Craig Reucassel from The Chaser’s War on Everything and ABC’s War on Waste shared his thoughtful, wry and fun take on the challesnges universities are navigating today and how to communicate academic research with powerful and popular impact. He suggested we think of research communication as an iceberg. Have your key message visible. Under the waterline sit your assumptions, exceptions, clarifications, margin of error and ‘stuff academics do’.
Make sure you’re there for next year’s conference from 24 to 25 February 2021 at the National Convention Centre in Canberra.