Scholarship, service and citizenship at heart of a Catholic university

Professor Zlatko Skrbis presented his inaugural lecture as Vice-Chancellor and President of Australian Catholic University on Thursday 22 April.

Addressing an audience at the ACU Campus in Melbourne and via a livestream, Professor Skrbis picked up on the theme of the idea of an Australian Catholic university proposed by his predecessor Professor Greg Craven, and advanced the concept of the purpose of an Australian Catholic university.

Exploring the practical role of a Catholic university, he said that in order to remain faithful to the fundamental tenets of its mission and be relevant in the current environment, it was necessary to harness its skills and nurture its capabilities in three key areas:

  • In the approach to scholarship and academic pursuit – consistent with the Catholic intellectual tradition.
  • In the capacity to teach and practice global responsibility and global citizenship.
  • And, via a commitment to serve and lead in a manner which facilitates the transformation of others.

“By holding these as our purpose objectives we can achieve something that is our raison d’être: to align the enactment of our mission with the key challenges of the modern era,” he said.

The theme of innovation being core to advancement underpinned the lecture.

“As we explore new frontiers, there is a need to continually and critically evaluate the effects of new advancements on individuals, communities, and environments. To ensure that they are truly and wholly benefiting human wellbeing.

“I have previously spoken of the need for ACU to have a stable core and a disruptive edge. For me, this means fulfilling our mission whilst proactively transforming to meet the demands of our changing times, particularly when our environment is in flux. And our university sector is undeniably in a state of flux.”

Arriving in Australia as an international student in 1991 to do a PhD– the same year that ACU was created as a public university – Professor Skrbis touched on the importance of the migrant experience. This had a clear impact on his academic career, the value of scholarship, his desire to encourage and mentor other international students, and his approach to a modern, Catholic university.

Professor Skrbis was formally installed as ACU’s fourth Vice-Chancellor and President in Sydney on 26 March 2021. Welcome ceremonies were held at ACU’s campuses in Brisbane, Canberra, Ballarat and Sydney to meet and celebrate with representatives of the university’s founding orders, industry partners, government, ambassadors, higher education colleagues, university staff, students, and friends and family.


Catholic Scholarship

“Catholic scholarship is the cornerstone of our mission.”

“Here, I mean engaging in intellectual pursuits which serve and benefit others, sharing the sense of accomplishment which can be experienced through academic endeavour, and undertaking our teaching and research in a manner consistent with the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

“In research, our role is defined by understanding and preserving the spirit of humanity. Particularly in relation to new realities and new risks.”

Global citizenship

“The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals underline the fact that environmental issues are having a serious impact on humanity – particularly on poorer communities. They have also highlighted the need for action to address these challenges. The SDGs are, of course, consistent with those of Catholic stewardship and those outlined by Pope Francis in Laudato Si, in that they have made a clear association between the need to care for the planet and the need to act in the interests of the common good.”

“Such competencies should be underpinned by a clear set of guiding ethical principles – 

  • A responsibility towards the broader global community,
  • Openness towards other cultures, values and experiences, 
  • Compassion towards the suffering of others,
  • And a commitment to act within one’s power to oppose injustice, inequality, and the destruction of the environment.”

“We must also strengthen these global competencies via our research agenda and our engagement activities. To achieve this, we would want to ensure that our researchers are firmly embedded in international networks and working to help tackle key global challenges.”

Service leadership

“Service leadership is motivated by compassion. A commitment to journey with others, understand their perspectives, and offer them support when required. If we do not fully appreciate the perspective of others, or the circumstances of those who we claim we are wanting to serve, then we cannot act in their interests.”

“Good communication is also required. And genuine service leadership facilitates growth and transformation.”

“Importantly, we should remember that service leadership is not exclusively the responsibility of those in formal positions of authority.”

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