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Economics and public policy expert celebrates 40 years at UC with honorary doctorate

Andy Visser

27 September 2018: Upon meeting Meredith Edwards, you notice a spring in her step, a twinkle in her eye and a gentle confidence that speak to a life of pursuing her beliefs passionately.

Dr Edwards has led a distinguished and salubrious career that has taken her from university lecture halls to the passages of Parliament House where she contributed to pioneering policies including AUSTUDY, child support, HECS and long-term unemployment.

“I believe that the heart and mind must agree in any decision I make,” Dr Edwards said. “So, if I feel there is something I should get involved with, I typically do it.”

Born in Sydney, Dr Edwards was educated at Canberra High School before completing her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne.

“I decided to study economics because it was the one subject I did well in at school,” she said. “One of the best decisions I have made, apart from having children, giving up smoking and buying a beach house.”

In 1963, as a newlywed, Dr Edwards headed across the ocean to Malaya with her husband. Little did she know that her academic career would take flight on foreign shores.

“I met the Professor of Economics when we arrived, and within two weeks I started lecturing in the economics department,” Dr Edwards said.

Upon returning to Australia, she took a post as senior tutor at the Australian National University where she later completed a PhD in Public Finance.

Dr Edwards joined the University of Canberra in 1971 when she took a position as tutor at the then Canberra College of Advanced Education.

“It was during these early years of working at UC that I helped to set up the Kirinari Early Childhood Centre – originally known as the Child Development Centre,” she said.

“I published my first article on child care soon after, which started my progress into contributing to a framework on policy reform in this area. Very soon I had carved a niche for myself by using my economics background and applying it to the development of social policy.”

Dr Edwards moved from academia to the public service in 1983 and has spent the rest of her working life trying to bridge the gap between research and policy.

“I am passionate about narrowing the gap between policy makers and researchers as they are co-dependent,” she said.

“By building understanding and acceptance between the two, social reform could be more effective.”

Dr Edwards was seconded to the Office for the Status of Women in 1983 before taking a position as special advisor on youth allowance at the Department of Education and later the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet where she was deputy secretary.

She worked across various positions and departments in the Commonwealth Public Service until 1997. This longstanding commitment saw Dr Edwards awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 1992 for her service to social welfare and education.

Dr Edwards has been a member and spokesperson for the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the Wran Committee on Higher Education Funding, the Australian Statistics Advisory Council, and a member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration among many other honorary positions. She currently is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Fellow of ANZSOG and a Fellow of the Institute for Public Administration Australia.

In 1990, when the University of Canberra was established, Dr Edwards became a member of the Council until 1996, and in the subsequent year was appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor – a position she held for five years.

“The birth of the National Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at UC came from my time in this office and reiterates my opinion that if you are passionate about something you will succeed,” Dr Edwards said.

Dr Edwards was recognised for her service to the University with her appointment of Emeritus Professor in 2005.

Dr Edwards is the author of three books and numerous academic articles in policy development and analysis, economics and taxation, child support, housing, poverty, women in the public sector and governance.

It is in recognition of her outstanding role as a leader, lecturer, researcher and policy analyst in economics and public policy that Professor Meredith Edwards has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Canberra.

Reflecting on her Honorary Doctorate, Professor Edwards sees it as “an honour of extreme significance”.

“I never expected it, but it has given me an opportunity to reflect on over 40 years associated with UC,” she said. “I see it as recognition of my loyalty to the University. I have an affinity to UC, I have watched it grow and I have always felt like I belonged.

“Economics has taught me to be critical and dispassionate; but life has taught me to be self-aware, to remove the masks that may define my various roles and remain rooted in my authenticity.”