Political rotations make us all stronger, says returning academic

When academics accept stints in politicians’ offices, everybody benefits, says outgoing Australian ministerial adviser

May 10, 2021
Kent Anderson has been appointed deputy vice-chancellor, global, at the University of Newcastle
Source: University of Western Australia
Kent Anderson has been appointed deputy vice-chancellor, global, at the University of Newcastle

Australian academics should consider emulating their US counterparts by pursuing opportunities to work more closely with politicians, according to a lawyer and administrator who has tasted working life in both domains.

Kent Anderson said the approach in his native US, “where experts are able to rotate into and out of the political system”, had much to say for it. “It makes both the sector and the government stronger,” said Professor Anderson, senior higher education adviser to federal education minister Alan Tudge.

“I am really glad I was given this opportunity and was able to take it,” he told Times Higher Education. “I have been able to serve two exceptionally engaged and knowledgeable ministers over one of the most critical periods for Australian higher education.”

The University of Newcastle has announced Professor Anderson’s appointment as deputy vice-chancellor, global, in a return to the New South Wales institution. He worked there as interim deputy vice-chancellor for several months before accepting what he envisaged as a temporary position with then education minister Dan Tehan, and subsequently joining Mr Tudge’s staff following the pre-Christmas ministerial reshuffle.

He has also worked in executive roles at the universities of Western Australia and Adelaide, and as founding director of the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University.

He studied law, politics, economics and Asian studies in the US and at the University of Oxford before beginning his academic career as an associate professor at Hokkaido University. He speaks Japanese fluently and has also worked as a commercial lawyer in Hawaii and as the marketing manager of an Alaskan airline.

His new role, which begins on 7 June, will put him at the helm of Newcastle’s international operations, alumni relations, philanthropy, marketing and communications, as divisional head of what vice-chancellor Alex Zelinsky described as the “revenue-generating powerhouse of the university”.

Professor Zelinsky said Newcastle would benefit from the insights of a leader with experience across academia, government and the corporate sector. “Kent’s understanding of the complexities of global education will, of course, bring valuable expertise to our international agenda,” he said.

The appointment comes at a fraught time for Australian universities, which face difficult relations with Canberra and multibillion-dollar losses from the pandemic, but Professor Anderson said the sector was “strong, resourceful and resilient”.

“I look forward to returning to Newcastle to be a part of it,” he said.


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