Science, and Engineering Deans Converge in Canberra

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The 2023 ACDS Annual Conference and AGM was held at the University of Canberra on 24-25 October.  The theme for the two-day conference was “Major issues and opportunities facing science and higher education today”.  The President of the ACDS – Professor Melissa Brown welcomed delegates and said it was pleasing to see so many Deans and Associate Deans at the event and that she was looking forward to some great presentations and discussions on key issues impacting University Science.

Day 1 of the program commenced with an enlightening and inspiring address by Sally-Ann Williams FTSE, CEO of Cicada Innovations, and Chair, Pathways to Diversity in STEM Review, who spoke to the importance of diversity and inclusion in STEM, not just from a moral standpoint, but an economic one – harnessing all our population’s talents and perspectives leads to better outcomes. She highlighted that the review is likely to recommend that organisations need to go beyond policies to accountability and action if they want to achieve meaningful change in diversity and inclusion.

Other guest speakers on Day 1 included Sean Smith, Director NCRIS-funded National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), who spoke on the opportunities and challenges of leading a National Infrastructure Centre, noting the value of collaboration and sharing expertise and capabilities.

Mark Hutchinson, President of Science Technology Australia, and Director of the Centre for Nanoscaled BiPhotonics, University of Adelaide gave an inspiring after dinner presentation on ‘intentional hope’ in driving research success and outcomes.

The Second day of the program was held in conjunction with the Australian Council of Engineering Deans (ACED).  Professor Paddy Nixon, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Canberra gave the welcome address, with a highlight being an acknowledgement of Country in which he spoke in the local (Ngunnawal) indigenous language.

Other Day 2 speakers included Judi Zielke PSM, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council; Iven Mareels AM, Vice President ATSE; Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS, Vice-Chancellor & President, Australian National University; and Jane MacMaster, Chief Engineer at Engineers Australia. 

Judi gave a comprehensive summary of current and upcoming changes to the ARC, including plans for a 2-stage ARC Discovery project grant scheme, which was followed by a panel discussion with reflections from members of both ACDS and ACED. Iven spoke about the importance of education and Jane provided insights into the challenges and maintaining a diverse workforce of engineers.

In a highly engaging presentation, Prof Schmidt spoke to the importance of enhancing K-12 education, emphasising STEM diversity and addressing gender gaps in technical fields; implementing stable research policy, fully funded by the government, targeting national challenges; boosting innovation by backing research startups and enhancing STEM career prospects; and supporting higher academia with improved pathways and encourage cross-sector collaboration.

Discussion sessions on Day 2 illustrated that university science and engineering share many challenges in teaching and learning, and in research.  Ensuring inclusivity and diversity in STEM disciplines emerged as a key theme from the conference for both the ACDS and ACED.

The conference finished with thanks and reflections from the Presidents of the ACDS and ACED, noting opportunities to partner in advocating for prerequisite Secondary School Mathematics to effectively prepare students to study Science and Engineering at University, opportunities to share best practices in a range of areas including achieving diversity via targeted recruitment, and opportunities for establishing cross-disciplinary teams to address national challenges.