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Two years into Monash University’s aptly named strategic plan, Impact 2030, outgoing President and Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner says it has already begun to take the university to the next level.
Under the new strategy, the university is engaged in tackling three global challenges through partnerships with others.
“Our education and research impact is strengthened by working with others – community organizations, business, industry and government. We must work with others in order to address climate change, geopolitical insecurity and thriving communities,” says Gardner, recently named the next Governor of Victoria.
Calling Impact 2030 a strategy with “a defined set of purposes focused on making real impact”, Gardner says part of their success lies in taking an international approach.
Most recently, the university has established the Pacific Action on Climate Transitions in partnership with Fiji National University, because they understand the Pacific nations need a series of responses to ensure economic and financial resilience in the face of climate change, which is expected to have a significant effect on the region.
They’ve also established an Indonesian campus, the first foreign-owned university in the country to do so – in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns, no less.
Taking on bold challenges such as opening a major campus during globally transformative times is no rare event for the university.
“When looking at those three global challenges, we conducted a conversation with our staff, alumni and more generally the community, but obviously our university community in the first instance, because climate change and geopolitical insecurity and thriving communities, they’re big goals.
“The conversation we’ve been having is: ‘How do you make a meaningful impact?’ And to do that, you have to start by assessing what capabilities you have. Then you look at how might you shape yourself to work with others, to make that impact.”
An example of their ability to deliver meaningful impact on climate change includes their World Mosquito Program, since if the climatic circumstances favor extension of tropical circumstances, there will be an increase in the impact of communicable diseases like dengue fever.
“You can’t actually be a thriving community with endemic dengue,” she says.
The program is now operating in 12 countries and has reached more than 10 million people. It continues to improve health conditions and strengthen the capacity of local communities around the world to help reduce the threat of mosquito-borne diseases.
They’ve also recently established the Fire to Flourish program in four disadvantaged communities in Australia, looking at building community resilience.
“We chose communities that were bushfire-affected communities,” she explains. “In the time that we started that program, many of those communities were then hit by flood, and then as we were working with community to build their resilience in terms of fire and flood, they faced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She explains the process included a deep dive into how to build thriving communities and address the impacts of climate change.
“What we learned from the programs we already had is that if we want to tackle those big challenges, we have to work with others – the communities, community organizations, with government, with industry and with philanthropic organizations,” she says.
“We then learned that we have to think seriously about how we build what you might call programmatic responses. That these aren’t a relatively single or small research project, instead, this is about thinking about multi-year programs.”
Given their interwoven approach to their strategic goals and priority areas, Gardner says that when looking at ways to enrich the student experience, they looked to ideas that would incorporate tackling their three global challenges across the hundreds of degree programs with thousands of subject units they offer.
“We asked, ‘What do we do that makes students part of this purpose?’”
They’ve launched three programs, including the Global Immersion Guarantee, which guarantees every first-year student in more than 80 eligible degrees an immersion experience. Now in its fourth year, around 1,500 students signed up in 2023.
Under the program, students go overseas in groups of about 60, largely into countries with Monash campuses or in their International Campus Network, covering India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Italy and China, or with partners in the Pacific (Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu). The program draws students from across numerous degree programs and offers unit credits.
“The immersion experience puts them into another culture, and they have to work together on projects that will go to the question: ‘How do you handle transition?’ And ‘What’s the impact of climate in these places?’ They build an understanding because they’re working with organizations, rather than just sitting in classes in another university.
“They’re doing a project in which they’re talking with others in community organizations. It’s a way of learning for themselves what it looks like when you tackle these issues with others in countries around us.”
They also offer the Monash Innovation Guarantee for second- and third-year students, which puts them in teams to learn to build startups.
“It’s a type of industry-based or work-based learning experience, which we hope will build their enterprising skills and the independence and creativity around building something for yourself in a team or an organization,” she says.
The third experience – Research, Experimentation and Discovery – is a smaller one, allowing interested students to be embedded in some of Monash’s big research teams, including those working in the Antarctic.
Gardner says there are very few cities that have the quality and concentration of medical research and biotechnology possibilities available in Melbourne, Monash’s home base.
“We’re very lucky where we are at Monash,” she says, with the Clayton campus next to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s largest campus, as well as the Australian Synchrotron.
They also have the Victorian Heart Hospital open to their campus, and Moderna is also setting up on its first-ever operation on a university campus.
Of the Victorian Heart Hospital alliance alone, Gardner notes there are 150 researchers, including those in the fields of medicine and engineering, working on medical devices, which adds to the university’s ability to offer rich benefits which extend to their students, and those they go on to serve, far beyond the years spent under their tutelage.