First, a disclosure. I am not a home-grown Aussie. I was born and educated in Denmark and moved here 30 years ago with my Australian-born wife who undertook PhD studies in Denmark.
I have been here for half my life, raised two Australian–Danish children and worked in three states and the ACT. I travel on an Australian passport.
Does my own experience influence my views on the importance of welcoming people from all over the world and making the most of their diverse strengths? Probably – but I think most Australians, regardless of background, understand that our relatively small population benefits from the input of people from many nations, including those whose talents are in big demand.
I have found this attitude prevails at UQ, where staff hail from over 130 nations and students from even more.
Many overseas-born staff have been in Australia for long enough to become citizens or permanent residents.
Others have temporary visas, including about 320 who are sponsored by the University on 457 work visas. They bring not only expert knowledge and skills but also access to networks of contacts in industry, government, academia and philanthropy.
Such networks can prove hugely beneficial for Australian research and commercialisation. Most importantly, they are highly advantageous to students seeking international insights and contacts in order to sharpen their knowledge, employment prospects, and entrepreneurism.
So when I hear the Australian Government champion an open economy as a key to continuous national prosperity, I think of UQ as an exemplar of globalisation’s positive features. We have seized opportunities presented by an increasingly interconnected and mobile higher education and research sector and turned them into social and economic gains for Australia.
UQ’s stellar rankings, the professional standing of our staff and the calibre of our graduates are among the factors that have created a magnet for excellent staff and students.
That is apparent in this edition of ChangeMakers, which includes a small selection of noteworthy projects led by both overseas- and Australian-born staff.
The overseas-born staff, coming from countries including China, India, Israel, Namibia and the United States, deliberately chose Australia as the place to invest their talents.
A case in point is Professor Neena Mitter, who (in partnership with an Australian company) is developing technology that could change how farmers protect crops from pests and diseases.
Coming from India, Neena says agriculture is in her DNA.
“I’m really passionate about being able to drive solutions that can make a difference to farmers. That led me to come to Australia to fulfil my dreams of doing innovative research to make a difference.”
Some of the other change makers featured in these pages were born here, advanced their education and career in world-leading facilities overseas, and then returned with expanded capacity to teach, mentor, research and engage.
I came to Australia in an era when national policy reforms were introducing new levels of economic openness. One set of these reforms, in higher education, laid the groundwork for what is now a $22 billion export education sector. Seen as politically bold back then, the changes helped shape 21st century Australia.
Now, amid concerns that some nations may re-erect trade barriers, it is opportune for Australia to maintain the reputation for openness – balanced with necessary security measures. We must send clear messages that this country values education, and celebrates people who use their knowledge, networks and innovative spirit to create opportunities for others. This publication contributes to that cause.
Professor Peter Høj
Vice-Chancellor and President