September 18, 2023

The Discord in the Accord: Keynote Address to the Innovative Research Universities Senior Leaders Forum

The Hon Andrew Fraser, Chancellor, Griffith University

I choose to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of these lands, the Jaggara and Turrbal peoples, and I acknowledge the truth of their original and enduring custodianship.

I also acknowledge that teaching and learning, the promulgation and passing of knowledge has been taking place on these lands for thousands of years.

The invitation to speak to you today at the commencement of your deliberations prompted me to reflect on our current circumstances, as universities of a certain age and in an uncertain policy context.

The median age of the universities represented in this room is 50.  Here at Griffith, to which I add my welcome to you, we turn 50 in a couple of years’ time, at the start of 2025.  At that arbitrarytime, we will be deemed – equally arbitrarily –to join some of you as officially no longer young.   While there is a Top 50 under 50, the taxing taxonomy of rankings permits no concept of the middling middle-aged university (not that I presume any of us would aspire to join that list…  )

In Griffith’s case, on the 5th March 2025 we will be a day older, but not old … however that is the day we will be declared no longer young.  One might observe in the context of acknowledging a history of some 65,000 years as I just did, this invented concept of what is young and what is old is exposed as being especially confected.

While we – at Griffith – are firmly in the self-examining, anticipatory anxiety of ‘what does turning 50 mean?’ … the universities that comprise the Innovative Research Universities – with a median age of 50 as I mentioned – can collectively trace their origins to a period of time in which Australia was eager to provide for increased opportunity for higher education.  It was a time of prosperity that comprehended a requirement to invest in the future, in establishing new institutions, investing in the infrastructure to provide for individual opportunity and collective advancement.  Taking that simple description, it was a time very different to our contemporary circumstances.

Today, given the opportunity to speak with you, I wanted to share some thoughts on the current policy process under the umbrella of the Accord, to examine our operating context, and to reflect on what we might do …

suggest some must-do’s and a couple of must not’s that may help us find success in the policy process

and thus create success for the communities we serve

 (… which is the point, afterall, of why we exist and why we might concern ourselves with the sausage-making of public policy processes).

If you are in the column of ‘if only Canberra would listen to us’ or ‘we just need some politicians that get it’ then some my observations today may be heard as a challenge.  If you reside a little further up the self-actualisation curve with a view that ‘we have a communications challenge and need to tell our story better’ then part of what I will suggest today may also confront that diagnosis, or at least advance a prognosis.

Most institutions that think they have a comms problem, or an image problem usually have a substantive problem.   It may often be described as a comms or marketing problem for a long time before it is truly grasped.  This is true of governments, and true of corporations, and true of causes.    Examples abound.  One question for today is: do universities have a comms problem, or do we have a different problem?

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