Advance Connect : Graduating from our ‘salad days’ to a more sophisticated global agenda for Australia

WATCH > Peter Varghese AO, Chancellor of the University of Queensland and the most recent Secretary of DFAT in conversation.

READ > The transcript of the program is now available

Esteemed advisor in foreign policy and international security, Peter Varghese AO, drew on his distinguished career in public administration, diplomacy and intelligence, to share insight at a very special and final Advance Connect roundtable discussion for 2020. 


Recently appointed board members, Warrick Cramer and Richard Umbers provided the opening and closing remarks for the roundtable. Warrick welcomed Varghese noting his unique ability to bring a sense of order when everything is being simultaneously upended and disrupted.

Global outlook

Varghese provided a concise, erudite and timely update on the global outlook facing Australia, with specific emphasis on the optimal approach for Australia relative to China, using a combination of engagement and constraint. He advocates a collective approach, together with countries that are similarly uncomfortable with a new world order where China is predominant. But he forewarned that getting to a point of equilibrium between engagement and constraint will take time.

He envisages the end of an era of global multilateralism, which has served Australia well, and a shift to a more pluralistic approach that could serve Australia even better. He cautioned however, that Australia will need to overcome the historic underinvestment in diplomatic efforts and leverage its defence capabilities to successfully navigate this complex environment.  

Australia’s choice to move from an Asia-Pacific to an Indo-Pacific framework is prudent given the growing importance of maritime challenges, and the potential value and structural complementarity of India. As Varghese outlined in the India Economic Strategy to 2035, Australia is well placed to provide the products, services and skills that India needs as its market evolves (see inset). 

The role of diaspora

With an increased focus on India, Varghese highlighted the important role of the diaspora in helping to modernise the view of Australia, and to bridge the time lag between how Australia is perceived, and what contemporary Australia is in 2020. He urged organisations like that are focused on strengthening our links into the region and Asia, to use diaspora channels to cultivate a more sophisticated understanding of Australia, as well as Australia’s understanding of other countries. Diaspora networks and research collaboration can be a platform for pursuing the broader economic and strategic agendas.

A challenge for universities

With insight as the Chancellor of University of Queensland, Varghese outlined the fundamental questions Australia universities must tackle to recover from the temporary loss of international students and broader questions about their operating models. Noting the direct connection between the nation’s productivity performance, our capacity to innovate and universities as a crucial incubator of innovation, Varghese urged a focus on getting the university system right for the sake of Australia’s future as a country and economy.

Despite seeing continued strong demand for international education across Asia, Varghese stressed the need to: 

  • Rethink the balance of domestic and international students, and in particular, increase the domestic postgraduate intake in Australian universities
  • Better integrate international and domestic students on university campuses 
  • Transform the education system to not only produce graduates, or people with postgraduate qualifications, but to deliver education and credentials to people at various points in their career. 
  • Improve industry-university partnerships and work towards a shared language to support collaboration

Global conversation

Roundtable registrants from across Australia, China, Japan, and the United States, raised questions about lessons from Japan’s approach to China, India’s global leadership in the energy and climate sector, trends in innovation and technology in universities, and the opportunities to direct Australia’s foreign aid activities towards high impact areas such as education of girls. 

Further information

  • India Economic Strategy to 2035 > More
  • The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation > More
  • The role of the Indian diaspora > More
  • Campaign for Female Education > More
  • The Australian Idea of a University, by Glyn Davis > More
  • Australian funding for diplomacy > More
  • Joint PhD program between UQ and Indian Institute of Technology Delhi > More


  • That was outstanding! What an articulate and thoughtful person he is. So concise, and strategic drawing from his broad career. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard “lustre”!!! What a great quote and deep question. Such a good series
  • His erudite and informative presentation was excellent and so informative.  I just hope those in the right places take his advice. What an uplifting session and a great end to the year.
  • It was one of the best I’ve experienced in recent times
  • I just wanted to say that session was absolutely fantastic and the attendee list was incredible.  Thanks so much for inviting me.
  • Great session, thank you
  • Thank you all. such a great conversation
  • This has been fantastic – thanks all in the Advance team
  • Excellent thank you
  • Fantastic conversation, thank you
  • Thank you, Peter – and to Advance – excellent session
  • Heartfelt thanks! Wonderful to be part of this

Closing remarks