Meet the new Director of the ANU Coral Bell School

12 October 2018

Highly respected Professor of International Politics Toni Erskine has joined The Australian National University (ANU) Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs as its new Director and hit the ground running.

Having just come to the end of her first few months at ANU, she described this period as both ‘a bit of a whirlwind’ and ‘a wonderful introduction to a dynamic and truly exceptional university’. She credits being part of one of the four finalist teams in the 2018 ANU Grand Challenges competition last month (for a project on ‘Humanising Machine Intelligence’) with not only reinforcing the University’s emphasis on research excellence and innovation, but also initiating her into a genuinely cross-campus research community.

During these initial months as Director, Professor Erskine has also led an application for the Bell School to host the biennial Oceanic Conference on International Studies (OCIS) in 2020, and pursued a formal research partnership between the Bell School and Cambridge University’s CFI to explore the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the politics of security of the Asia Pacific. She describes the former endeavour as “part of a strategy to showcase the Bell School and the work being done here to the rest of the world”, and the latter as “testimony to the School’s goal of building on existing expertise to respond to new global challenges”.

In the last few weeks the School has been told that its bid to host OCIS 2020 has been successful. Moreover, Professor Erskine has recently signed an MOU with the CFI at Cambridge University on behalf of the Bell School, and is now working with departments across the School to organise a joint workshop with the CFI on the impact of AI on the politics and security of the Asia Pacific, with a particular focus on democracy, governance, and war.

Commenting on what attracted her to this new position, Professor Erskine said ANU has an outstanding reputation internationally and the Bell School is known for both its exceptional scholars and its significant impact on policy-making.

“The Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs has unrivalled expertise in international and Asia-Pacific politics, security, strategy and diplomacy,” Professor Erskine said. “It’s a genuine privilege to serve as School Director and to help build on this reputation for excellence.”

Professor Erskine has spent the majority of her career in the UK, first at the University of Cambridge and then in the well-known Department of International Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth where she was awarded a Personal Chair in International Politics in 2009. She served as Director of Research and Deputy Head of Department at Aberystwyth until she accepted a professorial appointment at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy in 2013. She still has close ties to the UK and was made an Associate Fellow of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge University early this year. From the end of 2018, she will take up the position of Co-editor of the journal International Theory.

Dean of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Professor Michael Wesley, said he was delighted to have Professor Erskine in the role.

“Toni is an academic leader in the field of international relations, and comes with a wealth of experience,” he said.

“The close links ANU has to government offer unrivalled capacity for our researchers to translate their work into outcomes that will benefit Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, and I look forward to seeing that capacity taken to a new level under Toni’s leadership.”

“I feel really lucky to be here”, Professor Erskine concluded, “and I’m looking forward to showing what the School can achieve over the next five years”.

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