Q&A: Strategic Priority 3

ACU’s Strategic Plan 2020-2023 features six strategic priorities that outline our vision for ACU in the coming years.

To help you understand how you can support our strategic plan, we’ll be highlighting a different priority each month through a Q&A. This month, we hear from Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Wayne McKenna about Strategic Priority 3: World-leading research, with impact.

1. How is ACU working towards this strategic priority and what are some examples of how we are already achieving it?

Over the past seven years, ACU’s research intensification strategy has sought to achieve excellence in areas that align with our mission as a Catholic university. Under the 2020-2023 Strategic Plan, we continue this strategy with a focus on growing capacity for excellence in our core Research Strategic Priorities: Education, Health, and Theology and Philosophy and other Liberal Arts.

The research institutes help drive performance across these areas, which have recorded a very strong trajectory in recent Excellence in Research for Australia rankings. In the 2018 assessment, ACU was at, above, or well above world standard in every field of research in which we were assessed. We ranked first or equal first in the country in 10 fields. Across the health and psychology fields, we achieved scores of 5 – well above world standard. This growth and achievement is also recognised internationally, where we continue to climb in rankings, both in subject areas and our overall citation scores.

More recently we established the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy and the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences in alignment with our research priorities.To these institutes, ACU has already appointed the eminent researchers listed below (among others): 

  • Humanities Academy President Professor Joy Damousi FASSA FAHA
  • renowned historian Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick FAHA
  • world-leading philosopher of metaphysics and epistemology, Professor John Hawthorne.

This is testament to ACU’s growing international reputation as a university of research excellence in the humanities, as was our performance in history in the inaugural Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment (2018), which was assessed as ‘high’ for both engagement and impact.

To seed further high-quality research while strengthening collaboration with the faculties, ACU also established seven research centres in 2020. The centres provide an exciting future direction for growth and will ensure ACU’s continued success as a world-leading Catholic university.

2. How does this strategic priority interact with ACU’s focus on opportunity, innovation and ethics?

Research, by definition, seeks to create opportunities for new knowledge. Employing innovative approaches and, in some cases, multidisciplinary teams to produce research at the forefront of knowledge is the hallmark of our all our areas of specialisation. Innovation and opportunity also interact with our areas of focus through ACU’s collaborative research environment that brings world-leading scholars alongside early- and mid-career researchers and higher degree research students. To give one recent example, the international travel ban and closure of our Rome campus due to COVID-19 actually accelerated our research collaboration in the humanities as our ancient, medieval, and early modern scholars zoomed into virtual seminars. This provided access to some of the top international researchers of the field who would not otherwise have attended a local seminar or public lecture in Melbourne.

Within the Catholic intellectual tradition and an unwavering commitment to maintaining the highest ethical standards, our research also seeks to make a significant international contribution to the flourishing of society, the common good and the dignity of the human person. Our research priorities are closely aligned with these goals, as well as with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that have been a focus of our global Catholic partnerships.

3. How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed or influenced our work in this space?

As in many industries, there was a period of ‘shut down’ during which we weren’t able to make progress in the way we would ordinarily. Researchers were, in many cases, unable to conduct their research in schools and hospitals and with vulnerable populations. Yet research at ACU continued to grow in other ways during this period. As mentioned above, some of our researchers have successfully pivoted to online platforms of knowledge exchange and collaboration. We also welcomed researchers of international repute, signed new partnerships, and were successful in being awarded grant funding on a number of fronts. All of this is testament to ACU’s strength and resilience and the growing recognition of our research excellence.

4. How can staff contribute to this strategic priority?

Universities must, by definition, combine quality teaching with active research. Knowing the importance of research to the institution, all staff can gear their activities with this in mind, whether they be researchers themselves, supporting researchers, or, for those removed from research activities, there might be opportunities to translate research into benefits in the community.

We report frequently on the internationally renowned scholars making a contribution in fields across ACU and, while these individuals play a significant role in contributing to ACU’s reputation for excellence, there is a role to be played by all staff in contributing to our research being ‘world-leading’.

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