Grand Challenges Grand Challenges
Grand Challenges Grand Challenges

UWA Grand Challenges

seeking a sustainable, just and equitable planet.

The University of Western Australia acknowledges that its campus is situated on Noongar land, and that Noongar people remain the spiritual and cultural custodians of their land, and continue to practise their values, languages, beliefs and knowledge.

At The University of Western Australia, we’re uniting our world-class teaching, research and student experiences, and partnering with communities to tackle some of the world’s most complex problems.

Grand Challenges are deep and difficult issues, with no clear solutions, that require new ways of working across disciplines and sectors to effectively address. Together, we can find innovative solutions to these challenges and create a better world for all.

What are Grand Challenges?

Our Grand Challenges program will see our most creative minds working together to drive ongoing social transformation, working alongside our communities to better the world we live in.

UWA will focus its efforts on solutions to Climate Change and A More Just and Equitable World Post-COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread change across the world, exacerbating existing injustices and widening inequalities. Meanwhile, the climate crisis continues to challenge the ways in which we act as individuals, communities, states and as a global society.

By bringing our networks together around these Challenges, we hope to make meaningful contributions, thereby embodying our mission to advance the welfare of our society.

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2 people working in a lab

Why UWA?

For more than a century, our teaching and research priorities have aligned with the needs of local, regional and global communities to support economic and social development.

The partnerships we forge in tackling these Grand Challenges will help turn our research into real-world benefits faster and more effectively, and through cross-disciplinary collaboration, we will help industry to overcome challenges and harness opportunities.

We’re also committed to helping our students become the global citizens our world needs. We aim to instil in them the key values that will empower them to be the future leaders of our society.

Today, UWA is committed to seeking out sustainability in all its actions and to providing a just and equitable environment for all.

 

Home to 22 schools and 40 research and training centres, institutes, and major national research facilities.

60 Billion dollars icons

Our graduates are estimated to contribute $60 billion to WA's economy by 2050 (ACIL Allen Consulting 2010).

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UWA commands roughly 80% of all research funding to Western Australian universities annually

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We’re part of the Group of Eight, a coalition of Australia’s best research-intensive universities.

Our Champions

Our Champions are making an impact in the areas of Climate Change and A More Just and Equitable World Post-COVID-19. Get involved in the Grand Challenges and become a champion for these causes.

Zoe Bush

Farida Fozdar

Petra Tschakert

Dr Raj Kurup

Anas Ghadouani

Dr Demelza Ireland

Dr Caitlin Wyrwoll

Dr Nicki Mitchell

Willi Busse

Dr Ashley William Smith

What we’ll explore

Using our world-class teaching and research capabilities to address these Grand Challenges, both students and staff will have opportunities to play a role in the leadership and research that is crucial to the future of our planet and its people.

We will identify ambitious projects across science and the humanities that will have a large impact on our local, regional, global communities and create outcomes that will benefit the whole world. Underpinning our Grand Challenges are the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Explore United Nations' SDGs

Climate Change

3 Good health and well-being
6 Clean water and sanitation
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12 responsible consumption and production
13 climate action
15 Life on land
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A More Just and Equitable World Post-COVID-19

1 no poverty
6 Clean water and sanitation
7 Affordable and clean energy
11 sustainable cities and communities
12 responsible consumption and production
13 climate action
14 Life below water
15 Life on land
17 Partner ship for the goals
9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
11 Sustainable cities and communities
12 Responsible consumption and production
16 Peace, Justice and strong institutions
17 Partnership for the goals

How to get involved

Student opportunities

There are many ways for you as a student to contribute to solving the world’s Grand Challenges. Connect your passion, purpose and career by getting involved. Explore just some of the opportunities below.

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Education and career opportunities

Active Citizenship minor

The aim of this new interdisciplinary minor is to develop students' capacities to be caring, connected and socially engaged contributors to their communities through practical engagement with industry partners, and critical reflection on personal, community and government responsibility for positive change.

Engaged citizenship is increasingly important in a world that is global, complex and connected. Knowledge and understanding of the ways citizens can actively participate in their local and national communities is crucial to societal wellbeing; equally important is informed awareness of what it means to be globally connected where the impacts of social, political and environmental challenges reverberate internationally. The health and sustainability of future societies depends on citizens who are well informed, resilient and flexible, with skills that are adaptable to changing circumstances and needs.

Find out more about this new minor on the UWA Handbook or learn how to incorporate this minor into your studies by contacting your Student Advising Office. You can also email the McCusker Centre for Citizenship Academic Coordinator.

Climate Change minor

The natural sciences have developed a robust consensus on climate and related environmental changes and the numerous threats these present to the human and natural environment. However, translating this scientific knowledge into effective policy is one of the great challenges of our time. STEM graduates need to have a detailed understanding of the international and domestic politics, planning and policy processes that are key to implementing solutions to these global, complex and interconnected problems.

This minor prepares students for work in government, scientific organisations, the private sector and voluntary organisations by teaching them how domestic and international policy is produced, enabling them to apply their scientific expertise towards effective policy design and implementation. This minor consists of three streams based on specific global challenges: Climate Change, Urban Environments, and Environmental Planning.

Find out more about this new minor on the UWA Handbook or learn how to incorporate this minor into your studies by contacting your Student Advising Office

Approaches to Wicked Problems unit

Certain challenges facing Western Australian communities are complex or 'wicked', with demographic, infrastructural, political, cultural and economic dimensions. In this unit, students form small teams to address different dimensions of social challenges, working collaboratively with academic staff and the unit partners (community groups, industry or government).

Approaches to Wicked Problems offers enquiry-based learning, leadership training and develops valuable skills transferable to later studies and employment. Further skills developed include self-awareness, deep listening, inclusive communication and teamwork.

In January 2020, the McCusker Centre for Citizenship delivered this unit for the first time in partnership with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness. Held over four weeks, the unit saw 20 undergraduate students work in groups to solve a problem for organisations working to end homelessness.

Wicked Problems can be taken as a standalone unit or as part of the new Minor in Active Citizenship.

The next Wicked Problems undergraduate unit will be offered in Summer 2021–2022. For more information, email our Academic Coordinator.

McCusker Centre for Citizenship Internships

The McCusker Centre for Citizenship partners with more than 300 not-for-profit, community and government organisations to provide students with structured, quality internship programs.

Internships are open to all eligible currently enrolled undergraduate and postgraduate UWA students. The programs are run throughout the year, over Semester 1, Semester 2, winter and summer.

Successful applicants may earn academic credit towards their degree when completing an internship. Students from regional areas have the opportunity to complete an internship in their local community.

The internship program can be taken as a standalone unit or as part of the new Minor in Active Citizenship.

Find out more about the internship programs

The McCusker Centre also runs a Student Advisory Committee (SAC) you may want to get involved in. The SAC represents the Centre at various internal and external events, organises student events and provides the Director with feedback on a range of topics including the Centre’s units and programs. If you would like to know more, email info@mccuskercentre.uwa.edu.au.

Centre for Social Impact

The Centre for Social Impact is a collaboration of three universities: UNSW Sydney, Swinburne University of Technology and The University of Western Australia. Its purpose is to catalyse positive social change to help enable others to achieve social impact.

The Centre aims to do this through transformational research and education that is rigorous and purpose-driven, and by working with people, communities and organisations to grow their capabilities through research, education and leadership development.

Find out more at the Centre for Social Impact website.

Co- and extra-curricular activities

Global Citizenship

Global Citizenship is an online course delivered in partnership with global leadership organisation, Common Purpose. It will help you develop the skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, while tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems, through the lens of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

You’ll gain an understanding of the SDGs and complete engaging activities to challenge your perspectives, encourage open conversations and learn from the experiences of others.

Applications open December 2021.

Global Leader Experience

Delivered in partnership with leadership organisation, Common Purpose, the Global Leader Experience (GLE) will develop your ability to lead from a global perspective. Alongside other students, you’ll play a part in tackling the big issues facing businesses, governments and societies worldwide. 

The GLE will provide practical experiences, instil a global perspective and challenge you to adapt to dynamic situations. You’ll come out of the experience equipped with the tools needed to lead change, now and in the future.

Applications for onshore students open 27 April 2021.

Joondalup Innovation Challenge

Take part in this innovation challenge to build your employability and resilience, and help design solutions to real-world challenges in the City of Joondalup community using creative, technology-based approaches.

Over two weeks, you’ll work in an inter-university team to create a simulated start-up, identifying and addressing real-life problems impacting Joondalup residents and business, while being supported by professional industry mentors.

Find out more on the Joondalup Innovation Challenge website or get a firsthand account of the challenge from the 2020 UWA winners.

Applications open 27 April.

Volunteering and life on campus

UWA Guild

The UWA Guild contains many opportunities for students to get involved.

There are numerous clubs and societies whose activities align with the UWA Grand Challenges and/or the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The Student Guild Environment Department also works to promote sustainable change by providing a platform for students to engage with and advocate for environmental action. Visit the Environment Department website to learn how to get involved.

Explore clubs and societies

Staff

Green Impact program

Staff interested in taking sustainable actions in the workplace are encouraged to participate in the sustainability engagement program, Green Impact. This program helps raise awareness of sustainability by giving people a focused approach to tackling issues and supporting them in achieving these actions.

Currently, UWA is the only university in the state to take part in the initiative. In 2020, almost 100 UWA staff members contributed more than 340 sustainable actions, including instigating meat-free Mondays, using Whoosh bikes on campus, promoting soft plastic recycling, and launching switch off computers and lighting campaigns, among others.

If you’d like to take part or find out more, visit the Green Impact website.

stylised broken glass globe with tree growing out of it and the text Green Impact Program

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Alumni

We have countless graduates who work within our Grand Challenges themes. Explore just some of their stories or visit the website to read about graduates who are changemakers in society.

UWA initiatives and projects

Explore just some of the projects and initiatives undertaken by members of the UWA community that align with our Grand Challenges.

Coronavax project

The Coronavax project is a joint initiative between the VaxPolLab at UWA and the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute. The project documents community attitudes regarding COVID-19 vaccines and communicates these to State and Commonwealth governments. It involves qualitative interviews and focus groups with key consumers, social media analysis, and functional dialogues with government departments, linking the voices of the community with the ears of government.

Coronavax contains numerous sub-projects. Coronavax 1 and 2 focus on young adults, adults 65+ years, healthcare and aged care workers, and parents and guardians. Coronavax 3 looks at hard-to-reach groups:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in the Perth metro area
  • Adults from culturally and linguistically diverse communities
  • Non-Indigenous adults living in regional or remote WA
  • Adults from vulnerable communities experiencing homelessness, domestic violence or substance abuse
  • Adults aged 18 to 64 years with comorbidities

Coronavax 3 asks what these groups need in terms of government communication and information regarding a COVID-19 vaccine. How do their attitudes compare to other vaccines? What are their concerns? How do they want government to speak to them? How can government best motivate or assist these groups to get vaccinated? By using interviews, focus groups, social media analysis and dialogue, we can document their concerns and communicate them to governments.

One of UWA’s Grand Challenges is A More Just and Equitable World Post-COVID-19. Relatedly, two of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are Good health and well-being (SDG 3) and Reduced inequalities (SDG 10). Coronavax 3 fulfils this Grand Challenge and these goals by focusing on population groups that are difficult to reach and at risk of being ‘left behind’ during a mainstream COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

For a successful COVID-19 vaccine program, it is imperative we pay attention to groups at high risk of morbidity and transmission, particularly those expected to be poorly reached by mainstream rollout.

The COVID-19 outbreak experience in Melbourne’s public housing towers illustrates that communities are not homogenous, and need to be consulted regarding their own wellbeing and resilience. Western Australia’s Aboriginal communities have successfully advocated for policies and programs that keep them COVID-free. We need to build on these strengths and capacities by working with communities to research and develop plans for optimal vaccine uptake.

Assisted colonisation as a management response to climate change

In a general sense, our climate is shifting poleward and the corridors of habitat that allowed species to track such shifts in the past are now in fragments. In 2010, a UWA-led team began a world-first initiative to circumvent this problem for a critically endangered reptile.

Seasonal wetlands 300km south of the known range of the Western Swamp Turtle (or tortoise) that are likely to provide suitable microclimates in the future were identified, and trial translocations of captive-bred turtles to candidate wetlands began in 2016. This type of action, known as ‘assisted colonisation’ or ‘assisted migration’ is controversial due to the risk of the introduced species transforming its new environment, but is not unlike situations where threatened animal species have been rescued from extinction by moving them to islands safe from invasive predators.

Western Swamp Turtles are also vulnerable to introduced predators, but critically, they need reliable winter rainfall to fill the seasonal wetlands where they breed and grow. The combination of lowering groundwater, reduced rainfall and heavily fragmented habitat surrounding the last remaining viable wild population north of Perth is making it impossible for this very rare species to mount a recovery without conservation interventions.

This project is an ongoing collaboration between university researchers (including many UWA PhD, honours and master’s students), and the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, and in recent years has been supported by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program. It addresses SDG 13 Climate action and SDG 15 Life on land.

The team has produced many publications on this initiative and more generally on assisted colonisation, and project leader Nicki Mitchell has given several plenary addresses at international conferences on this emerging option for maintaining wild populations of threatened species under a changing climate.

UWA Modern Slavery Research Cluster

The UWA Modern Slavery Research Cluster (MSRC) was established in 2019 and brings together interdisciplinary researchers from across UWA. Modern slavery is an umbrella term used to describe a number of crimes, including, but not limited to, human trafficking, forced labour, sexual slavery, child labour and trafficking, domestic servitude, forced marriage, bonded labour, slavery and other slavery-like practices. In 2018, Australia introduced its Modern Slavery Act (Cth) which requires businesses with an annual turnover of $100 million or more to publish annual statements on their actions to assess risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.

According to the International Labour Organisation and the Walk Free Foundation, there are 40 million people in modern slavery around the world – 25 million people in forced labour and 15 million people in forced marriage. 71% of those in modern slavery are women and girls, and 25% are children. Some industries present a particular modern slavery risk and certain countries and regions are known to present a higher risk of modern slavery. The Asia Pacific region has a high incidence of modern slavery, so this is a risk for Australian companies with operations and supply chains in the region.

Robust research in this area is necessary and UWA’s MSRC brings together researchers from a number of schools including Law, Business, History, Social Sciences and Oceans with diverse interests in human rights, corporate law, supply chains, SMEs, forced marriage, consumers, and the history of slavery in Australia. 

Our work aligns closely with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, given the focus on issues such as forced labour, bonded labour and the worst forms of child labour, it links closely with SDG 8 Decent work. Severe worker exploitation also leads to and is facilitated by poverty (SDG 1 No poverty). In seeking to understand the causes of, and propose solutions to, modern slavery, we work towards SDG 10 Reduce inequalities.

United Nations’ Principles of Responsible Management Education

The UWA Business School's commitment to advancing social responsibility is marked by its recognition as a signatory to the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME). Inspired by internationally accepted values embodied in the principles of the United Nations Global Compact, the PRME initiative connects business schools and business leaders to shape business management education in support of attaining the UN sustainable development goals.

The UWA Business School's commitment to advancing these goals is reflected in its teaching, research and community engagement activities. The activities of the Centre for Social Impact, academic staff and the student body have enhanced the School’s reputation as an organisation that is at the cutting edge of researching social issues such as homelessness, migration, workplace restructuring, and now the effects of COVID-19 and thinking through strategies that can respond to these big challenges.

Becoming a signatory to the UN PRME initiative reinforces the School's commitments in the areas of ethics, social responsibility and sustainability, and helps forge national and international collaborations that open up opportunities for UWA to both share with and learn from the best practice examples of other top academic institutions participating in the global PRME community.

The PRME principles provide a unique opportunity for the School and University to engage with our students to develop their capabilities to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society. The principles also provide us with the opportunity to develop our students’ potential to be leaders who are able to work with all community sectors, especially that of the business community, to explore effective approaches to address the sustainable development goals and meet social and environmental responsibilities.

Wave Energy Research Centre

The Wave Energy Research Centre (WERC) was established as a knowledge hub for the ocean energy community, and receives support from the Western Australian government and UWA. WERC provides world-class multidisciplinary research in three main interlinked research programs that support ocean renewable energy projects. In its ‘surface to seabed’ approach to ocean engineering challenges faced by the industry, WERC research focuses on data collection and modelling in Oceanography/Coastal Processes, Hydrodynamics/Wave-Structure Interaction, and Geotechnics/Foundation Design. Its activities are most closely aligned with the UN’s SDG7 Affordable and clean energy, SDG13 Climate action and SDG14 Life below water.

The Centre is the conduit for marine and renewable energy projects in the region, with additional leverage of national and international academic and industry networks. Data from WERC wave buoys is freely available to the public and to technology developers and is a trusted source for the local surfing community and ecotourism operators.

WERC headquarters are in Albany, in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, where operations, fieldwork and community outreach contribute to the prosperity and resilience of a regional community and local supply chain. WERC is founder and Steering Committee member of the Australian Ocean Energy Group (AOEG), which is an industry-led consortium that aims to accelerate innovation in and cost-competiveness of the ocean energy sector.

Sustainability at UWA

Now, more than ever, we recognise that as a university we have a responsibility to drive change towards a sustainable future for our local, regional and global societies.

Our Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2020-25 demonstrates our commitment to addressing environmental challenges and provides roadmaps of how we intend to do this within various focus areas.

It is the University’s ongoing ambition to embed sustainability in all our actions and behaviours, and have it continually reflected in our people and culture.

Read the UWA Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2020-25 [PDF, 3.5MB]

What we’re doing

While our strategy focuses on environmental sustainability within our campus, we endeavour to provide sustainability activities across the University.

In education, we pride ourselves on courses that support sustainability-related learning outcomes such as our Master of Agriculture, Master of Public Health and Master of Ocean Leadership.

In research, there are many UWA centres and institutes dedicated to achieving Sustainable Development Goals outcomes. And within our global partnerships, we have fostered strategic partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions to enhance our global relevance and impact.

Goals and targets

The University has a target of energy carbon neutrality*  by 2025 and carbon neutrality^  by 2030.

The University has developed an Energy Carbon Neutral Strategy to help us achieve energy neutrality.

* Net zero carbon emissions from stationary energy use

^ Net zero Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions measured in accordance with the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme

What we’re doing now

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Installing solar photovoltaic panels

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Energy efficiency upgrades

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Procuring renewable energy supply for the campus

More information is available in the Energy Carbon Neutral website.

In 2021, the University plans to develop a strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. This strategy will involve student, staff and industry input.

News

Keep up to date with news stories and announcements. Read about the work we're doing at UWA within our Grand Challenges.

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Windfarm 

Have a question?

Get in touch with us

Email
grandchallenges@uwa.edu.au