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Contributing to Australia’s understanding of & role in Asia & the Pacific

The National Institutes Grant enables ANU to support the development of Australia’s national unity and identity, including by improving Australia’s understanding of its Asia-Pacific neighbours, and its place in the international community.

Launch of the Australia Pacific Security College

Through the National Institutes Grant, ANU has built unparalleled Pacific expertise by focusing on increasing and strengthening Australia’s understanding of and connections with the region. This expertise was further consolidated with the creation of the Australia Pacific Security College (APSC) in August 2019. The college will support the implementation of the Pacific Island Forum Boe Declaration for Regional Security, and its agenda for climate, environmental, human and traditional security. Climate change is one of the foremost security issues for Pacific island countries, but they also want to respond to other security issues with both regional and national dimensions, such as transnational crime, cybersecurity and human security issues. Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the APSC is an educational institution servicing all Pacific island countries and helping to strengthen regional security through collaborative learning and better personal relationships. Experts, policymakers and security practitioners from around the region are working through security challenges to inform courses and their contents. The APSC was designed in close consultation with Pacific island countries, and ongoing consultation and cooperative efforts will be its hallmark. The college respects the sovereignty of Pacific governments and works closely with them to identify training requirements.

Director of the APSC, Professor Meg Keen, said that the college leadership would work with Pacific governments to navigate the increasing complexity of regional security and tailor its program to their needs. “Our end objective is to be an asset that Pacific countries can call on to develop their strengths and pursue their security interests,” she said. The APSC has already “hit-the-ground listening”, travelling to meet with leaders in Pacific island countries including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands. The visits are helping with understanding the security priorities and identifying gaps for professional education and training.

Asia-Pacific satellite of Global Institute for Women’s Leadership

The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL) based at King’s College London has partnered with ANU to establish a ‘sister institute’ at ANU, with an Asia-Pacific focus. The memorandum of understanding was signed in September 2019. The Institute works towards a world in which being a woman is not a barrier to becoming a leader in any field. Chaired and founded by Australia’s first and (so far) only female Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard AC, the Institute encapsulates the pursuit of research excellence and transformative public policy and societal impact. King’s College London launched the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership in April 2018 to bring together rigorous research, practice and advocacy to better understand the causes of women’s under-representation in leadership positions across sectors and countries, the impact gender has on perceptions of leaders and the most effective ways to bring about change. The new sister Institute is the first international ‘branch’ of GIWL, and takes full advantage of the Gender and Asia-Pacific scholarly expertise on offer at ANU. It will add depth and an Asia-Pacific perspective to the Institute’s research streams, advocacy and engagement activities, expanding the reach and scope of the Institute to help achieve truly global impact.

The Vice-Chancellor in Fiji

On a June trip to Suva, Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt met with ANU alumni, members of the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat, diplomats in the Australian High Commission, and many leaders of the University of the South Pacific. It was thought to be the first such visit to a Pacific island country by a sitting ANU Vice-Chancellor, and will lead to closer relationships to share ideas, co-create research, and support student and faculty exchange between the two universities. More than 60 alumni – including staff of non-government organisations (NGOs) working in remote locations, senior business leaders, highly regarded academics and a government minister – joined the Vice-Chancellor at an event hosted by the High Commission. The Vice-Chancellor is planning to return to the Pacific in the near future.

Science engagement in the Pacific

The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) encourages democratic ownership of science by increasing community science awareness, fostering public dialogue and improving the communication skills of all scientists, especially in the Asia–Pacific. Science Circus Pacific, a travelling science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) engagement and capacity building program of ANU, is working in partnership with Pacific universities and NGOs to build capacity in science communication in Pacific countries. ANU–Pacific teams are co-developing and co-delivering science engagement programs focused on youth, schools and the community. In 2019 they reached 4,535 people through 44 hands-on exhibitions, workshops and shows in five visits to Fiji and Samoa. Fifty-eight Pacific science communicators, trained through the project, were key contributors and most continue to run independent programs. The project is fostering ongoing Australia–Pacific partnerships, people-to-people links, and empowering Pacific science communicators to tackle regional issues including climate, innovation, gender and STEM skills and careers, particularly in Pacific youth. The project will expand in 2020, with pilots in Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia, and emerging partnerships in the Solomon Islands. CPAS is creating a network for science engagement in the Pacific, which will expand regional expertise, grow research and engagement capacity, be a conduit to Australian policymakers working in the Pacific, and contribute to wider Australian Government priorities such as the Pacific Step-up.

Pacific regional diplomacy

The third and final stage in the pioneering Pacific Regional Diplomacy project of the Coral Bell School’s Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy and University of the South Pacific is underway. The project is completing a comprehensive scholarly analysis of the dynamics of regional diplomacy in the Pacific Islands region. The first stage brought together Pacific Islander and Australian academics, diplomats and journalists to understand the innovative and dramatic developments in regional diplomacy in the past decade. The second stage focused on regional diplomacy in relation to regional security, development and climate change over the past 50 years and examined the diplomatic agency of the small island states. The third stage of the project is exploring an under-researched aspect of the dynamics of regional diplomacy, Indigenous diplomacy – diplomatic protocols and practices that emanate from the long history of engagement between cultural groups in this region and the ways in which they are adapted in current diplomatic engagements. Examples are the use of talanoa in Fiji’s global diplomacy or the use of Indigenous diplomacy in the reconciliation of Fiji and Vanuatu in the Melanesian Spearhead Group. The first research workshop was held at the University of the South Pacific in April 2019, with more planned over the next two years.

Pacific Gender Research Portal

An increase in National Institutes Grant funding to the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs from 2020, will see ANU Department of Pacific Affairs work with regional stakeholders to establish the Pacific Gender Research Portal. The portal, to be established as a regional public good, is intended to make gender research more readily accessible to scholars, practitioners and policymakers. It will build on the school’s long-term research and engagement in women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The portal will allow the school to lead understanding and support for positive social and political change in our region, while extending the reach of the University’s world-class Pacific gender research. It is envisaged as a moderated resource for the wide range of users conducting and using gender research in the Pacific – hosting a library of relevant academic research, papers and other resources; offering knowledge translation services; building and facilitating linkages within a Pacific gender research community of practice; providing commentary as a form of peer review; and helping new and emerging scholars and gender practitioners to learn the art of critical research. The portal furthers the University’s partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and its national responsibilities to conduct and share world-class research, and advise government and national policymakers.

Physics outreach in Southeast Asia

Lecturers from the Research Schools of Physics and Biology made a capacity-building visit to Timor Leste in 2019, partly funded by the Physics National Institute Grant. The team works in collaboration with ACT high school teachers to train Timorese science educators through practical teaching methods involving experiments. The project builds on previous experience of international development work, in collaboration with the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, that has been facilitated by the National Institutes Grant. Dr AJ Mitchell of the Research School of Physics established a program to train academics at the University of Yangon in southern Myanmar, from across the STEM and humanities and social sciences (HASS) disciplines, in aspects of research development and student supervision. He hopes to establish these trips as a regular part of the outreach calendar.

Innovative study of languages in Asia & the Pacific

Understanding our neighbours, one of the ANU founding objectives, is built on language. The School of Culture, History and Language (CHL) takes academic leadership to foster new directions in language education and hosted the Innovative Language Education Symposium in September 2019 to discuss and share innovative language education matters. Over the three days of the symposium, a diverse and interdisciplinary set of language education minds shared the latest research in Asian language teaching and talked about developments in language teaching pedagogy. Discussion centred around topical themes like language and policy, the definition of innovation in the context of language education, the growing global relevance of Southeast Asian and Pacific languages, and intercultural education. The symposium was an ideal, and practical, platform for collectively brainstorming and learning about the future of language education in the Asian century. The school’s ePub website was also launched at the symposium.

Synapse seminar – culture, history & language

The ANU CHL has a long tradition of pioneering field research into the deep history of Asia and the Pacific, drawing on its strengths from across the school, and across the University. The school has launched a series of initiatives aimed at integrating these different disciplinary approaches and skills in the design of a new Evolution of Cultural Diversity Initiative. The inauguration of the CHL Synapse seminar series in 2019 is part of CHL’s Flagship program on trans-disciplinary approaches to the past. Synapse – the gap that transfers impulses throughout the body’s nervous system and allows us to move from thought to action, or theory to practice – is an appropriate metaphor for a project that tries to identify the gaps and build the connective tissue between different disciplines, move from theory to practice, and generate concrete projects. In its first year, the CHL Synapse seminar featured presentations from geneticists, linguists, historians, archaeologists and trans-disciplinary theorists to an even more diverse audience. The series will continue into 2020 and beyond.

Better hygiene & health outcomes in the region

Bacteria, viruses and parasites are spread through poor sanitation, causing gastrointestinal infections and mortality. In Indonesia, tens of thousands of deaths are caused by gastrointestinal infections each year, including 31 per cent of infant deaths due to diarrhoea. The ANU Research School of Population Health is tackling this issue of poverty and development in Asia and the Pacific through its innovative ‘BALatrine’ project. Professor Darren Gray and Honorary Professor Donald Stewart AO led a team from around Australia and Indonesia in a research program evaluating the impact of sanitation, hygiene education and deworming on health in Central Java. Their collaboration with local NGO, Yayasan Wahana Bakti Sejatera Foundation, has directly installed 2,400 culturally acceptable latrines to date, giving about 8,600 people a personal toilet and its sanitation benefits for the first time in their lives. This research and associated advocacy has led to the installation of another 1,000,000 latrines across Indonesia, facilitated by the foundation and the Indonesian Government.