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Leading universities offer ‘best minds and expertise’ to assist bushfire victims

Nick O’Malley – The Sydney Morning Herald – January 7, 2020

The nation’s leading universities are mobilising to provide immediate support to students, families, communities and businesses hit by the bushfire crisis after discussions between the Group of Eight major universities and federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.

In the short term, the universities have offered to provide everything from financial support to students affected by the fires and on-campus accommodation for displaced families, to agistment for livestock, trauma support for first responders and specialised medical care for burns victims, according to a letter sent by Group of Eight (Go8) chief executive Vicki Thomson to Mr Tehan.

In the medium and long term, the universities have offered to liaise with the government via the Go8 to provide expertise in rebuilding communities, industries, economies and climate science.

The Go8 is a coalition of elite research universities, including the University of Sydney, University of NSW, University of Melbourne, Monash University, Australian National University, and the universities of Western Australia, Adelaide, and Queensland.

“We understand absolutely as the group of universities which undertakes 70 per cent of university research in Australia, that in the midst of this climate emergency we must continue to pursue the research that helps us understand how we got here and also which gives us the seeds of hope that help us adapt to the future,” Ms Thomson wrote to Mr Tehan.

“I wanted government to be very clear from the start that all that the [Group of Eight] can do in support, we will. This is a heartfelt offer to you of the best minds and expertise that we have – at the government’s and the community’s disposal as and how you wish to make use of it.”

The universities are now in the process of making inventories of what useful services and expertise they can provide to their communities, but much work has already begun.

For example, the University of Adelaide has expertise on the impact of smoke on viticulture and winemaking and is offering the use of winemaking and storage facilities at its Waite campus to South Australian grape growers and winemakers affected by the bushfires, while its staff and students are volunteering time and expertise in checking vines and reinstalling irrigation systems.

The University of Melbourne is providing services to affected students but is also assessing what accommodation it might offer to evacuees and how it can make its veterinary services available to injured livestock and wildlife.

Monash is offering the use of its drone fleet and airborne sensors which can create high-resolution colour imagery to map assets and asset loss.