The butterfly effect

Graham Tuckwell. Photo by Belinda Pratten.

Graham Tuckwell. Photo by Belinda Pratten.

The largest gift ever given to an Australian university for the benefit of students will go much further than transforming students’ lives, writes GEORGIA NIELSEN.

In chaos theory, the term ‘butterfly effect’ means that a small change in one place can result in large differences to a later state. In making the largest donation ever from Australians to an Australian university, Graham and Louise Tuckwell have put this theory into effect. While their gift is in no way small, it will result in large and widespread changes in the future.

The gift, given through the Graham & Louise Tuckwell Foundation, will fund the newly established Tuckwell Scholarship program, the most transformational undergraduate scholarship in Australia. Every year, 25 new Scholars will be awarded $20,000 per annum for the length of their degree to support a community-based residential experience at ANU.

With a strong focus on giving back to Australia, the program is as unique as the gift. It is the only one of its kind to nurture students to fulfil their broader community ambitions over and above the pursuit of a university degree.

The Scholarship, open to students Australia-wide, is also unique in that it allows recipients to study a single or double undergraduate program, including honours and vertical degrees (degrees that combine undergraduate and graduate study in a reduced time-frame) in any discipline. With such broad offerings, the Tuckwells hope to attract a talented and diverse group of students who will go on to contribute to many different areas of Australian society.

The Tuckwell’s vision for the program was born of a desire to give young Australians the same opportunities and experiences that they had as students, says Graham.

“Both my wife and I benefited enormously from our educational experiences. We just went to normal state schools, but our university experiences were life-transforming. We would like to give that opportunity to other young Australians who we feel can use their education to transform not only their lives, but also the lives of others,” he says.

When Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young first heard about Graham and Louise’s vision, he was immediately struck by the scale of it.

“I was enormously impressed by their vision and the exciting possibilities that it provided for the University, the nation and our students,” he says. “I was delighted and surprised at the magnitude of the gift, but also at the fact that they wanted to ensure it had longevity to it.”

With 25 Scholarships awarded every year beginning in 2014, a community of Tuckwell Scholars will quickly emerge. The Tuckwells hope the group will create a bond that outlasts the Scholars’ time on campus.

“Over time there will be an increasing number of graduates and hence alumni and an ever-expanding body of people who have benefited from the program and continue to benefit the program,” says Graham.

In forming this group Graham hopes to achieve what he terms a ‘balanced class’ – ensuring that the impact of the program reaches far and wide into different disciplines, industries and corners of society.

“The Scholars will be from a broad range of backgrounds and interests and they will be developing these interests in different ways; some may be undertaking academic medical research, or working in finance or on social outcomes, all of which are important. The common thread is interacting and giving back,” says Graham.

With this common thread in mind, Graham and Louise think it is important that Tuckwell Scholars be chosen not only for their academic merit but also for their commitment to their community and their willingness to give back.

“Clearly there’s a certain amount of good-quality academic work that’s got to be done, but equally you’ve got to enjoy yourself and develop as an individual. That’s what we would like to see these Tuckwell Scholars do,” says Graham.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington  believes the Tuckwells’ focus on achievements beyond the classroom complements the University’s own vision.

“The Tuckwell gift resonates with our belief in education as backing talented people to succeed in leading the transformation of communities. I am looking forward to welcoming the 2014 Tuckwell Scholars to our unique learning environment, in which excellence is to be found across the campus and in achievements both inside and outside the classroom,” she says.

In 2012 Graham was listed as one of the 10 wealthiest entrants on the 1,000-strong annual British Rich List. He earned the spot through sheer hard work. After 20 years in corporate advisory and investment banking in Australia and London, Graham founded – and became Chairman of – ETF Securities Limited (ETFSL), a leading issuer of Exchange Traded Products, a concept that Graham invented. The company has around $30 billion in assets, making it the seventh largest ETP firm in the world.

Graduating in 1978 with a Bachelor of Economics with Honours and then again in 1981 with a Bachelor of Laws, Graham has come a long way since his days at ANU, living on campus at Bruce Hall while balancing study and golf. In choosing ANU to be the custodian of the Tuckwell Scholarship, Graham hopes Tuckwell Scholars will have the same opportunities and experiences he did.

“When I went to university many years ago, we weren’t given the choice of where we went. Basically all of us went to the university in our home town,” he says. “I was very fortunate to go to Australia’s best university but others didn’t have that opportunity. Canberra was a fantastic place to grow up and a fantastic place to go to university.

“Throughout my time at ANU I was always conscious that we had extremely high-quality professors and lecturers teaching us. I can still remember some of the things my professors said in their lectures because they were so profound. And I still use the skills they imparted to us.”

His choice goes further than the opportunities and experiences he had on campus; it is also linked to the benefits he gained later from being an ANU graduate.

“This is a national scholarship program where we are aiming to get students from all around Australia at a single university, which enables them to interact with each other – and that university is Australia’s best university, ANU. I can tell you it’s the best university because I benefited enormously from the springboard of opportunities that it gave me in life,” he says.

“I have certainly found that in interviewing for jobs, a degree from ANU is a passport for success. I have been interviewed in New York and London and certainly the ANU degree was looked at as top quality as compared to Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, etc. They just looked at it and said, ‘this is Australia’s best university unquestionably, you went to a top school, you’re in’.”

With the highest percentage of students living in residence on campus in Australia, ANU is well- placed to deliver the interconnected learning experience that sits at the heart of the Tuckwell vision, says Professor Young.

“Through our unique residential experience and through the quality of education we provide, we deliver a full, rounded education that enables students to do a whole host of extra-curricular activities as well as their academic activities. This mix enables us to deliver the sort of education that Graham and Louise envisage,” explains Professor Young.

He adds that the impact of the Tuckwell gift will reach much further than their vision.

“Philanthropy in the Australian university sector is at a much lower level then you would find, for example, in the United States. One of the important results of the Tuckwell donation will be to set an example of what people who have succeeded in business or other activities can do.

“I am hopeful that this gift will act as a catalyst for other philanthropists to make similar donations to Australian universities. It will begin a conversation, I think, about the magnitude of these types of contributions and the transformative nature they can have, not only on universities, but society more broadly.”

Dr Colin Taylor, Director of Alumni Relations & Philanthropy at ANU echoes Professor Young’s sentiment for the future of philanthropy in Australia.

“The Tuckwell Scholarship is a powerful demonstration of transformative philanthropy. Building on a long history of giving by our alumni and friends, the Tuckwell gift marks a new chapter in the story of philanthropy at ANU. That their vision so clearly encompasses the idea of ‘giving back’ inspires us all and will help to build a generation of future philanthropists, who will give back in ways significant to them, for the benefit of Australia and the world.”

Professor Young commends the Tuckwells for looking to the future to ensure their generosity has longevity.

“I think by investing in scholarships, what the Tuckwells have been able to do is ensure that there’s longevity to the impact this has, and they very much see that by developing young people, those young people will be able to contribute to society in the future. The Tuckwells have been extremely generous, not only with their donation, but with their gift of time, thought and knowledge to developing such an outstanding and unique program.  For that I, on behalf of the University, am truly grateful,” he says.

With a strong vision propelling it, the impact of the Tuckwells’ gift is sure to reverberate far and wide: there is no doubt of the potential for a Tuckwell Scholar to go on to become Australia’s next Prime Minister, Nobel Laureate or butterfly effect expert.

Video: Learn more about the Tuckwell Scholarships http://bit.ly/rep_tuckwell

Filed under: ANU Reporter


Updated:  25 March 2013/ Responsible Officer:  Director, SCAPA/ Page Contact:  Director, SCAPA