University of Adelaide VC delivers Bradley Oration

13 December 2023
Professor Peter Høj AC delivers the 2023 Bradley Oration
The University of Adelaide's Vice-Chancellor and President warns widening economic inequality could diminish the quality of our democracy.
From left: Professor Mark Scott, Kirsten Andrews, Emeritus Professor Bruce King and Professor Peter Høj AC

From left: Professor Mark Scott, Kirsten Andrews, Emeritus Professor Bruce King and Professor Peter Høj AC

Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Adelaide Professor Peter Høj AC this week delivered the second Bradley Oration, warning that widening economic inequality could diminish the quality of our democracy. He further stated that enhanced educational attainment amongst the disadvantaged is a potent lever to reduce income disparities over the long term, particularly if combined with economic growth fuelled by strong R&D implemented for societal benefit.  

The Bradley Oration honours the late Professor Denise Bradley AC, and the 2023 address is the second of its kind, following the inaugural Bradley Oration delivered last year by Education Minister Jason Clare.  

Vice-Chancellors and higher education leaders from across Australia gathered at the University of Sydney to honour Professor Bradley and attend the Oration. An alumna of the University of Sydney (B Arts in 1962 and Honoris Causa in 2017), Professor Bradley led the 2008 higher education review that gave rise to Australia’s demand-driven funding system and the establishment of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). She also served as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Australia from 1996 to 2007.  

The Bradley Oration acknowledges her significant contribution to the higher education sector. Kirsten Andrews, the University of Sydney's Vice-President, External Engagement and master of ceremonies thanked Professor Bradley’s family for attending the event before inviting Professor Bradley’s husband Professor Bruce King to give an introductory address.

Ms Andrews said: “May this oration serve as a reminder that Denise’s legacy is treasured in the higher education community; we will never forget the work that Denise did, thank you for joining us to celebrate her.”  

Her words were echoed by Professor King who reflected on the significant reform his late wife achieved in restructuring South Australian education – a process that continues today.

“Denise’s career trajectory from librarianship lecturer to vice-chancellor coincided with government initiatives to restructure the higher education system in Australia,” he said.

Professor King examined his late wife’s significant role in reshaping the South Australian higher education and her decisions that helped set the university up for the success it enjoys today – decisions that he said stemmed from a “shared understanding that sometimes new institutions have to do things in different ways as they struggle to find their feet.”

“Authority and responsibility suited Denise,” he said. 

“Denise had a clear view of leadership involving shaping a vision for an institution through widespread consultation.”

A long-time friend of Professor Bradley, Professor Høj began his oration acknowledging her legacy as “an inspirational and defining leader in Australian Higher Education.”

Describing Professor Bradley as someone with “staggering intellect” who was “ferociously honest” Professor Høj said Professor Bradley’s ambition for Australia to create a stronger society was embodied 15 years ago, in the 2008 (Bradley) Review of Australian Higher Education which signalled vital reform for the sector.

But 15 years on this ambition has taken on “even greater urgency in a world that seems more fractured, and in some places less civil, just, and democratic”, he said. 

“We are privileged to live in a strong democracy but I see some worrying signs in traditionally well-functioning democracies that should not be ignored and should be countered where possible.”

Noting that education is often the defining difference when it comes to wealth disparity, Professor Høj emphasised Professor Bradley’s enduring view that universities are fundamental to the enduring value of an educated workforce underpinned by outstanding research, informed by societal needs, and put to use for societal benefit.

“So, some 15 years after its release, how can we continue to pursue the implicit objectives Denise Bradley wished for Australia to achieve?” he asked.

“Firstly, we should acknowledge that a huge amount has been achieved already as pointed out by Minister Clare in the first Bradley Oration last year.  

“However, it is also clear that a key objective relating to low-SES participation in higher education has yet to be met.”

As the first in his family to get a Year 12 education, Professor Høj, acknowledged Professor David Lloyd, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of South Australia as a fellow ‘first in family’ graduate.

“David, like me is also a first in family graduate and is also a person who has benefitted enormously from access to higher education,” he said.

There is a moral imperative to address the injustice that flows from individual children being born into different circumstances and an enormous collective benefit to all citizens in doing so.
Professor Peter Høj AC

“We agree on most things and when it comes to getting springs in our steps – nothing beats seeing young people graduate from our institutions.  

“It is especially uplifting when we know many of them – like us – are the first in family to be given what we consider a life-changing asset – a post-school education.”

Professor Høj said they also shared an ambition to amalgamate The University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia into the new Adelaide University which he said is committed to increasing skilled employment for young Australians, diversifying student cohorts, and driving innovation and economic growth in South Australia.

Concluding his address, Professor Høj called for Australia to deliver on the ambitions set out in the Bradley Review, particularly as it relates to low-SES participation in higher education.

“There is a moral imperative to address the injustice that flows from individual children being born into different circumstances and an enormous collective benefit to all citizens in doing so,” he said.

“The choice is ours. If we make it, we may be able to hand the society we have on loan from our children back in as good, and hopefully better, shape than we received it. That would not only be the right thing to do but also allow us to - in Denise Bradley’s words - maintain our high standard of living, underpinned by a robust democracy and a civil and just society  - and who knows – even make an advance on that laudable goal. I am pretty certain Denise would not have objected to that ambition.”

The University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott, gave the vote of thanks to Professor Høj and the Bradley Family, and recognised Ms Andrews’s role in creating the Oration as a significant event on the University’s calendar.

He said the lecture came at a pivotal time for the higher education sector in Australia as the University Accord finalises its process.

“It was interesting hearing Peter talking about trust, and the correlation between high levels of trust in community and levels of democracy and the perception of fairness,” he said.

“Because I think one of the really interesting challenges that we face as a higher education sector is how trusted are we? And how strongly will we be able to advocate for the investment that we need to do the work that we do?”

Professor Scott said Professor Høj’s call to the community to ensure that university doors are open to all is central to the trust that the higher education sector needs to inspire.

“I think we'd all agree with the principle that talent is equally distributed but that in our society, that opportunity is an option. And that education is the most powerful tool that's been discovered to overcome social disadvantage.”

The Oration followed a stirring Acknowledgement of Country by Siupeli Haukoloa-Paea from The University of Sydney’s Gadigal Centre..

Media Office

  • Jane Foss Russell Building G02

Related articles