Highly-regarded economist awarded Honorary Doctor of Science

Highly-regarded economist awarded Honorary Doctor of Science

Dr David Gruen recognised for his contributions to economics, education, academia and the Sydney Business School.

Prominent economist and forecaster, Dr David Gruen, has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) during the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) July graduation ceremony (Friday 21 July).

Dr Gruen has been recognised for his outstanding scholarship and services to Australian public policy in the field of economics, in education as an author, academic and commentator, and for his valued contribution to UOW through his continuing support of students in the Sydney Business School.

Born in Sydney in 1954, the son of a World War II refugee, David’s intellect and drive saw him achieve Dux of Haileybury College in Victoria in 1971 and be awarded a Victorian Government Senior Scholarship.

In the ensuing years, his outstanding scholarship was reflected in the award of a Shell (Australia) Postgraduate Scholarship in Science and Engineering in 1975, a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship in 1982, and a PhD Scholarship from the Australian National University in 1986.

With financial support from a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship, he was a visiting lecturer in the Economics Department and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University from 1991 to 1993.

Dr Gruen’s stellar career as an economist began later than most of his contemporaries in the field. While he took a minor in probability theory and statistics in his BSc studies at Monash University, his early interest lay in science, which he avidly pursued going on to attain a PhD in physiology from Cambridge University in 1980.

However, at the age of 29, thinking that his father – an economics professor and adviser to former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam – had a more “interesting life” and that “economics seemed like a more interesting discipline”, David made a career change and completed his second PhD in economics at ANU, where he met his wife and now respected economist, Jenny Wilkinson.

Reflecting on this decision, Dr Gruen said he took a measured approach of investigating his prospective career shift before making a full segue.

“I made the transition easier by doing study in stages. Before I burnt my scientific bridges, I took a conversion course to economics to see what I would think of it, so it took me some time to make the conversion, I didn’t make a decision on a particular day that I was never going to do science again. I kept my options open, did a conversion degree and then thought about whether that seemed like something that was a good thing to do and then gradually came around to the idea that was going to be my future career,” he said.

While his professional pathway holds a major focus for Dr Gruen, he is firmly committed to contributing to the greater good.

“Part of my way of operating has always been to want to do things that I feel have a kind of bigger purpose than just keeping the wolf from the door, something that I can feel good about,” he affirmed.

Dr Gruen went on to hold a range of positions in Economic Research and Economic Analysis departments with the Reserve Bank of Australia including that of Head of the Economic Research Department from 1998 to 2002.

In 2003, he joined Australian Treasury and was later appointed to the very senior role of Executive Director (Domestic) in the macroeconomic group. He worked at the Treasury for 13 years before taking up his current position of Deputy Secretary, Economic and G20 Sherpa, with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Dr Gruen has been a member of many Reviews and Advisory Panels including the Review Panel into Australia's Superannuation System (the Cooper Review 2009-2010), the Australian Statistics Advisory Council from 2010 to 2014, the Advisory Panel for Australian Government's 'Australia in the Asian Century' White Paper in 2012 and the APS Commission Capability Review into the then Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2013.

Unlike many of his contemporaries in Treasury, during his 13 years with the Department, Dr Gruen became well known for his public speaking and contributions to key aspects of national economic debate. He is also a contributor across a broad spectrum of media and public debates, broadening the understanding and examination of some of the key critical economic factors that drive our economy.

Dr Gruen has undertaken teaching and research at Cambridge, the ANU, and Princeton University; is an ANU Public Policy Fellow, and a panel member to select Fulbright scholars for the ACT/NT. He is currently a member of the ANZSOG Research Committee, and is also a member of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) Council on Economic Policy.

He has published 20 scientific articles in scholarly journals from 1977 to 1987, and since 1991 has published 84 articles on economics and economic policy garnering 2,203 citations.

Since 2010, Dr Gruen has been an Honorary Fellow of the Sydney Business School in the Faculty of Business, contributing largely to the School’s Executive Masters of Business Administration program. Over the past seven years he has donated his time to Executive MBA cohorts, inspiring students in all aspects of economics before they commence on their EMBA journey.

Dr Gruen said he was thrilled to be receiving this Honorary Doctor of Science and finds the work with the Sydney Business School of great value professionally and for his family life.

“The work that I’ve done for the University of Wollongong has been to provide an annual talk to the EMBA program, very early in the course I provide an overview lecture.

“One of the things that’s a bit different about that is I try and bring one of my children along to listen to it. My two older children have been to this talk on a few occasions and I’m just trying to convince my 15 year old to continue with the tradition.

“Hopefully it expands the horizons of the people in the audience and in the case of my children it gives them an idea of the sort of things that I’m doing when I’m not looking after them,” Dr Gruen remarked. He offered graduates some sage advice as they embark on the next phase of their career after graduation.

“Make sure that you do things you have a passion for because you’re going to be spending a lot of time doing them so don’t just take a job because you need a job, find the thing that you really care about and pursue that.”

Dr Gruen attributes the high calibre job opportunities he has enjoyed to continuously seeking out and accepting roles where he can create impact on a wider scale.

“I try to make sure that what I’m doing, I really enjoy and when I’m not enjoying it, looking around for a new opportunity that’s going to stretch me and feel I’m making a contribution,” he said.