The Shaping Australia Awards will recognise our unsung heroes

November 8, 2023


Catriona Jackson, Universities Australia Chief Executive

One of the things I love most about Australians is our pride in national achievement – our robust celebration of success and talent as well as the grit and determination it takes to get to the top.

We love watching Australians win, but we also love seeing them give whatever it is a red-hot go.

From the Matildas to Kylie Minogue and Nicole Kidman, Ian Thorpe and Emma McKeon – their success is our success.

And why shouldn’t we celebrate? For a nation with a small population, we punch well above our weight, with so many shining stars.

But we’re also a nation of unsung heroes, and Australia’s universities are full of them. Individuals going the extra mile, day in, day out, to shape the future of the nation.

Teachers forming creative, flexible minds, ready to tackle the biggest challenges.

Researchers coming to grips with the world’s complexity, curing disease, calming conflict, looking over the horizon navigating the future.

Whole teams of highly skilled people, serving their local community, in good times and bad.

This is what our universities, the staff and students in them, do, and they do it on behalf of the nation and for all Australians.

We know that the Australian population turns to universities as sources for truth, innovation, enterprise and skilled graduates. Covid-19 made that abundantly clear. University researchers were relied on to help Australians navigate the pandemic by providing advice on everything from mask-wearing and vaccines to social distancing and panic buying.

Yet, the full scale of what universities do for the nation continues to be under- recognised.

Sure, university work doesn’t take place before 100,000 spectators or on a spotlight stage, but university wins take place every day, across the nation, and make us all stronger economically, socially and technologically. This is worth celebrating, and we intend to do that.

To level up the playing field, Universities Australia has launched the Shaping Australia Awards to applaud the contribution universities and the people in them make to our nation.

The higher education sector is an engine for economic growth, addresses inequality through access to education, educates about 1.5 million people each year, runs a multibillion-dollar export industry, supports more than 250,000 jobs and underpins small businesses through the supply chains it generates.

From the transformative research the sector undertakes to the world-class teaching our universities provide to future members of our skilled workforce and the community spirit they build and foster, Australia is stronger for these efforts.

As our nation navigates a series of multigenerational challenges – including the energy transition, national security and an ageing population – universities, as they always have, will continue to play a key role as a trusted partner of government and community in delivering national priorities.

These are the national challenges and opportunities we simply can’t rise to without universities – either through the research and development we undertake, by the skilled workers we educate, or through the helping hand we lend.

The Shaping Australia Awards will recognise excellence across research, teaching and community service, celebrating the wonderful contributions universities and individuals make to Australia and Australians.

• The Problem Solver Award will recognise an individual or a team’s work or research that has changed or has the potential to change the lives of Australians for the better.

• The Future Builder Award will recognise an individual or a team that has gone over and above to equip their students with the knowledge and skills they need to make a positive impact in the world.

• The Community Champion Award will recognise an individual, team or university with strong links to its community and the people who call it home, not just those who attend the institution.

A panel of eminent Australians will judge the awards, including:

  • Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM, former secretary of the Department of Education
  • Sir Peter Cosgrove AK CVO CNZM MC, former governor-general of Australia
  • Mr Kurt Fearnley AO PLY, three-time paralympic gold medallist
  • Ms Michelle Gunn, editor-in-chief of The Australian
  • Mr Nicholas Moore AO, Special Envoy for Southeast Asia
  • Professor Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University and Nobel laureate

Nominations for the Shaping Australia Awards close on November 20, 2023. Visit for more information.