• Offered by ANU College of Science
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Classification Transitional
  • Course subject Vice Chancellor Postgraduate
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Christopher Browne
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in Second Semester 2020
    See Future Offerings

Some activities that form part of this course can be taken remotely or on-campus in Sem 2 2020. Check timetable for details. Group limits may apply.

'Universities serve to make students think: to resolve problems by argument supported by evidence; not to be dismayed by complexity, but bold in unravelling it'.  (What are universities for? by Geoffrey Boulton and Colin Lucas).   This course takes up this challenge by offering latter year students from any part of the ANU the opportunity to explore a series of complex issues. The connections between economic, historical, social, legal, scientific, engineering and environmental and moral dimensions of complex problems will be explored.    

The course will examine the behaviour of complex problems.  Case studies will include the collapse of empires, contemporary development, health and environmental issues, engineering and network failures and the moral and legal dimensions of all these issues.  

The course will encourage students to share their existing disciplinary perspectives to develop deep understandings of how to go about effective team based approaches to unravelling complex issues.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  • Identify and generalise archetypical behaviours in complex problems
  • Provide and situate disciplinary perspectives and methodologies in an interdisciplinary team
  • Analyse and construct arguments from multiple perspectives, supported by evidence and with intellectual independence
  • Reflect critically on theory from the course by connecting personal experiences and/or real-world situations
  • Design, research and defend a learning portfolio unravelling a complex problem

Other Information

This course requires an application, as positions are strictly limited. Further information can be found at http://vc-courses.anu.edu.au/uc . Successful applicants will be provided with a permission code
from CECS Student Services.

Enrolment process:

Interested students need to register an expression of interest at: http://vc-courses.anu.edu.au/apply

Indicative Assessment

  • Peer-reviewed Individual Learning Portfolio that unravels a complex problem (50%)
  • Interdisciplinary Group Project that distills and provides direction on a complex issue (30%)
  • Tutorial Co-Facilitation during semester (20%)
  • Postgraduate students will be asked to complete a more substantial Individual Research Paper (3,000 words) and present an extended (10-min) presentation of their Learning Portfolio. The extended marking criteria is outlined on each assessment sheet.

In response to COVID-19: Please note that Semester 2 Class Summary information (available under the classes tab) is as up to date as possible. Changes to Class Summaries not captured by this publication will be available to enrolled students via Wattle. 

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


  • Four hours contact a week, made up of a 2-hour seminar (highly recommended) and a 2-hour
    tutorial (compulsory). In addition, a 1-hour workshop (compulsory) is held the week before your
    tutorial co-facilitation.
  • Approximately six hours independent learning a week is required to engage in the course content.

Requisite and Incompatibility

Incompatible with VCUG3001

Prescribed Texts

    Preliminary Reading

    Before the course starts students should browse the open access course web site (http://vc-courses.anu.edu.au/uc . Examples of past student assessment items are available and all students
    should read at least one of the pre-readings:

    • Bammer, Gabriele and Michael Smithson 2008, Uncertainty and risk: multidisciplinary perspectives, Earthscan
    • Brown, Valerie, John Harris and Jacqueline Russel 2010, Tackling wicked problems through the transciplinary imagination, Earthscan
    • Bar-Yam, Yaneer 2004, Making things work: solving complex problems in a complex world, NECSI Knowledge Press
    • Harris, Graham 2007, Seeking sustainability in an age of complexity, Cambridge University Press
    • Mitchell, Melanie 2009 Complexity a guided tour, Oxford University Press
    • Lineweaver, C.H., Davies, P.C.W., Ruse, M., 2013, Complexity and the Arrow of Time, Cambridge University Press



    Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

    If you are a domestic graduate coursework or international student you will be required to pay tuition fees. Tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

    Student Contribution Band:
    Unit value:
    6 units

    If you are an undergraduate student and have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). You can find your student contribution amount for each course at Fees.  Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

    Units EFTSL
    6.00 0.12500
    Domestic fee paying students
    Year Fee
    2020 $3570
    International fee paying students
    Year Fee
    2020 $5460
    Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

    Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

    ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

    The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
    Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

    Second Semester

    Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
    9731 27 Jul 2020 03 Aug 2020 31 Aug 2020 30 Oct 2020 In Person View

    Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions