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Research themes – our priorities

Equality, belonging and power
Our research themes capture the turbulent times in which we live. We currently focus on questions of equality, belonging and power, for the benefit of future generations in Australia and the wider world.


Image of schoolchildren

The recent global trend towards greater inequality – between socio-economic groups, generations, cultural and ethnic groups – is indisputable. But what are the forces driving that trend and how can we combat or reverse it? Is technology, and particularly the rise of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, a reason for optimism or pessimism? Are global companies driven by a conventional understanding of shareholder value now being challenged by alternative models of ownership and control?

Across the globe, populations are striking back, as they try to claw back ground conceded on equality over the last 30 years. What role do education and health services have in responding to the rise in inequality?


School speech image to depict belonging

Around the world the rise of economic inequality and political distrust has been accompanied by a dramatic upturn in cultural and national discussion points linked to belonging and identity.

The biggest topics of debate include:

  • patterns of migration and social integration
  • the so-called ‘culture wars’ that accompany public debate on same-sex marriage
  • the place of religion in society
  • changing understandings of gender and related concerns.

These issues also capture the relationship between place and peoples, the sense of social erosion and alienation currently reported in countries worldwide. In Australia they are also highly relevant to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Sydney Policy Lab’s work will focus on many of these areas and others, including themes related to the place of higher education in challenging traditional understanding of belonging and identity.


Australians voting at an election booth

In Australia confidence about established institutions of democracy is on shaky ground, and faith in many developed democracies across the world is declining. In some of these countries we have witnessed the electoral consequences of this decline, with the rise of populist political movements and the shattering of conventional parties on both the left and the right.

This theme focuses our work on changes to politics that can reverse the rising trend towards populism and distrust. Community-driven models that redistribute funding power and decision making to members of the public are increasingly popular in developed democracies, but are they grounds for hope? Are more radical alternatives to conventional representative politics emerging? Should we even consider discussing a period of post-democracy?

How can people outside the political elite play a role in shaping a new political landscape, and if there was a seismic shift, how would the public service itself react?

Get involved in our research

In developing research and partnerships across these three themes, we welcome activities that move beyond conventional boundaries of public policy analysis. These activities include insights from the humanities and the creative arts and ideas originating from science, environment, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We have placed multidisciplinary and international collaboration at the heart of our research, and initiatives like our recently opened Sydney Policy Lab are concrete examples of this philosophy.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence