ATSE President's reflection

STEM creativity and innovation will see us through challenging times

19 August 2020

Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE

Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE

President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering

Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus Architectural School in Berlin, believed that the way to achieve creativity and innovation was to attract talented people and place them in an environment that stimulates and encourages originality.

One of the important ways ATSE stimulates innovation is through our annual awards. In a normal year, these are celebrated at a gala dinner, which is one of the highlights of the ATSE calendar. Needless to say, such a dinner was not possible this year, but our CEO, Kylie Walker, and Communications Director, Justine O’Brien, turned challenge into opportunity and created our first ever virtual awards ceremony (which is now available now available here).

The awards recognised amazing innovators who have developed and delivered creative solutions to real problems (for example, a low-cost drug to cure river blindness, and a low-gluten barley that is safe for coeliacs). Events such as these highlight the glittering array of exceptionally talented people in Australia. It is one of our great strengths as a country.

To maintain our leading edge we need to compete globally for the best and brightest people and persuade them to live, study and work in Australia. In that sense, current circumstances have led to a unique opportunity created by barriers to skilled immigration, and the policies of other governments in some parts of the world. Now is the time to be attracting those students and technologists who would normally choose those countries, and will possibly be turning to others instead, in the future.

Unfortunately, two recent ATSE reports produced for the Government’s Rapid Research Information Forum, have shown that COVID is destroying many of the jobs that would be in the pipeline for such talent and the students who fund those jobs. Hopefully, these issues will be addressed in the post-COVID recovery. We know that thanks to ATSE’s work in this area, the Government is aware of the issue).

To return to the Bauhaus School, in terms of creating an environment to encourage creativity, we need to always to remember that innovation is a contest of ideas. As such, it is vital that our discourse remains respectful and we don’t let our passions overcome our civility in debating new ideas. Notwithstanding the absolute truth that science progresses through dissent, if we maintain constructive exchanges of ideas amongst talented people, there is nothing to stop us.