This is an exciting time to be leading an institute charged with building India and Australia ties. The relationship between India and Australia is becoming closer. People in India are more interested in Australia. In Australia there is a thirst for information about India.
This should be no surprise at all. India and Australia–located of course at two corners of Asia–share beliefs in democracy, tolerance, and openness. We share challenges for example around rising inequality, environmental change and puzzles regarding the future of work. We are increasingly interconnected via flows of people, materials, ideas – and flows of passion.
But for all this there is something surprising about the buzz around Australia-India relations.
There is, as Raymond Williams would have put it, a type of ‘structure of feeling’, where we imagine ties between Australia and India as a basis for something wonderful: not only productive growth but also a heightened appreciation of art, sport, geography, food, the fullness of life… fulfilment.
Linking Australia and India is not only then about tactics, profits, politics, and safety. It is also about discovering what it means to be human.
This sentiment has underpinned so much of Aii’s activity in 2017. There are many highlights: the inaugural India week, which included a superb Hindi conference at La Trobe University; the coming together of the 12 Aii New Generation Network (NGN) scholars to discuss shared interests at a retreat at the University of New South Wales in Sydney at UNSW; and the series of events that surrounded Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to India in April 2017, which the Aii supported. It has been heartening to see the relationship with our founding partners outside the University of Melbourne – La Trobe and UNSW – going from strength to strength.
I also thoroughly enjoyed working on the Reference Group that is supporting Peter Varghese AO in his development of an India Economic Strategy. This important document will help to shape the Australia-India relationship in years to come and will doubtless shine a light on how to develop a productive and fulfilling relationship.
What is also gratifying is all the work that has gone on in building research capacity at the day-to-day level. This has included some substantial achievements by our NGNs, who are increasingly finding ways to win research grants and partner with organisations outside their universities. It is evident too in the lively series of events that we have organised at Aii, including our seminar series, keywords lecture series, and Drop in Chais. The vibrancy of the Aii can also be measured in the success we have had with competitive Category I grants in our Melbourne office – Dr. Trent Brown won a coveted ARC DECRA Award in 2017 and Dr. Jane Dyson and I started our ARC Discovery Project.
One of the personal highlights for me has been witnessing a sharpening of the Aii’s focus on our four key thematic areas of education, health, governance/security, and infrastructure.
As we kick-off the academic year for 2018, colleagues at the Aii are working hard to show that each of these themes – crucial to the future of India and Australia – require imaginative approaches to collaborative work, and approaches that go beyond any single discipline or disciplinary group.
I am learning from our early-career researchers that such imaginative approaches have a vertical dimension: We need to create teams that bring together senior professors, mid- and early-career researchers, students, and high school pupils.
I am also learning about the strengths of horizontal collaboration, where people from different sectors – government, business, academia – and fields, such as science and arts, come together to undertake impactful research on key issues. One of the wonderful aspects of working in Australia is that there are many universities who are modelling such interdisciplinary practice.
At a small scale we model such horizontal collaboration within the Aii, which contains people from a wide variety of backgrounds and with diverse skills sets. I am very fortunate to work at an institute with wonderful staff. I take this opportunity to thank them all and note that Dr. Karen Barker and Professor Priya Rangan have been crucial in leading our engagement and scholarly activities in 2017.
I would like to thank Robert Johanson, Chair of the Aii Board, and the Board for their support over the year, as well as Professor Simon Evans, Professor Susan Elliott, and Professor Carolyn Evans in the international team at the University of Melbourne. I thank also Professor Amitabh Mattoo in Aii@Delhi. The Aii has also benefited from the support provided by Professor Robin Jeffrey and his colleagues on the Advisory Panel.
We have generous and highly supportive partners at the Aii, and I thank them for all their support. These include the University of Melbourne, the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, the Victorian Government, Visy Industries, Tata Consulting Services, PWC, and the universities throughout Australia that contribute to the NGN.
In 2018 we will be focusing especially on developing projects associated with our funding agreement with the Department of Education and Training. We will be assisting the Victorian Government in implementing their India Strategy, and working with colleagues in universities across Australia help implement the new India Economic Strategy.
We will also be maintaining our early-career centred applied research on key issues affecting India, widening our engagement with government, and developing our ties with business.
In addition, we will be engaged in a wide variety of community-oriented events at which we discuss shared ideas across the Australia and India boundary and celebrate the developing relationship between Australia and India. It will be productive. It will also be fulfilling.