Hope springs eternal at ACU

A message from the Campus Dean (Canberra), Associate Professor Patrick McArdle:

We have entered spring – at least spring in Australia (almost all the rest of the world changes seasons around the 21st of the month to link with actual equinox changes). As I noted in one of these columns previously, I really dislike winter. Spring, however, is an anticipation of hope and beauty. It might not be quite here yet, but it is emerging – we see it in the wattle, the budding trees and the blessed return of warm weather. We at ACU are also witnessing it in the presence of our students on campus.

This year, spring, at least the idea of spring, is even more welcome. We have new hope that we might be finding a way as a nation to live with COVID-19; new hope that one of the many vaccine options being developed will become operative; new hope that some degree of normality (not what we are calling the new normal, but actual normality) might return in the not too distant future.

Having our very strange forms of Virtual Open Day at the break of spring is part of our participation in hope. Of course, it is necessary that we give prospective students the opportunity to find out more about us, who we are and what we do, even if virtually rather than on campus. Still it is also about hope. Over 4,000 potential students engaged with us at the weekend; the Tertiary Admissions Centres are reporting record numbers of applicants both for early entry schemes and against the same periods in previous years – these are prospective students also taking up the mantle of hope.

It has been rather cynically suggested, that with high levels of unemployment people who would have otherwise sought a job are instead considering studying at uni. Perhaps. I would rather be in the hope business. I prefer to think of those seeking a tertiary education as being motivated positively, not out of fear. I believe they are looking to a future where they can contribute; a future where they are seeing that the nation needs more health professionals, more educators and, yes, despite government efforts, more humanities and arts graduates because we want to be a community that is able to respond to the unexpected, to respond to challenges and that these responses are genuinely human in character. That is, that we respond to help others, to strive to meet their needs, that we are able to serve others. A number of these prospective students engaged with us last weekend and will again over the next two weekends, to see if their search for hope might find a common story with the journey of ACU.

I was encouraged to think about this more deeply from some comments made by students who are back studying on campus in Canberra. They noted that the university had responded to their needs – unlike their friends at other universities who were invited back into university accommodation (and paying for it), while virtually all classes at these other institutions are online. They have made the point that ACU is giving them both the ability to progress in their courses and a community within which they are supported and can feel supported. As this group of students was chatting with me, I was wishing that they were more conscious of physical distancing while they were more focused on the need to be in the company of others. It might be a function of the modified timetable that we've needed to deploy, but this semester students seem to be on campus and highly visible for longer. This too is an expression of hope and optimism about the future.

As a university we often find ourselves attentive to market share, admissions, retention and success rates – all important. What our students constantly remind me of is that we form a community within which those benchmarks and measures have a particular resonance and a particular meaning. We are in the people business; in the business of hope. Spring and our students are important reminders of our real work – enhancing hope for a brighter, stronger future through our community of service. I hope that it is really the case over the coming weeks that a significant number of prospective new students find that, like themselves, ACU is a community of hope that is inviting them to join us on this vital journey.

Associate Professor Patrick McArdle
Campus Dean (Canberra)



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