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South Australian institutions explore merging into global mega university

Education

South Australia’s two largest universities are considering a merger to create a tertiary institution of global significance.

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The Chancellors of the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia today announced that the two universities have agreed to explore whether a merged university would generate a stronger institution with the potential to deliver greater outcomes for South Australia.

The two Vice-Chancellors, Professor David Lloyd (UniSA) and Professor Peter Rathjen (Adelaide) will begin a six-month period of collaboration to discuss the potential merger and will deliver a joint report by the end of the year.

Established in 1874, the University of Adelaide is among the oldest universities in Australia and is a member of the elite ‘Group of Eight Australian Universities’.

Although it was only founded in 1991, the University of South Australia has grown its student base to 37,000, the highest enrolments in the state.

Over the next six months, both universities will undertake extensive consultations with staff, students and alumni, as well as business, industry, government and members of the community.

Full details of the consultation process will be announced over the coming weeks, with submissions to be called for across the period August-September.

All current academic programs, student services and research relationships will continue, and each institution will operate as normal during this period.

In a joint statement, Chancellors Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce (Adelaide) and Mr Jim McDowell (UniSA) said the national and international landscapes of higher education were rapidly changing.

“Now is the time to facilitate a conversation about whether uniting our universities would create a new internationally renowned university of scale that would be well placed to anticipate and respond to this changing landscape,” their statement said.

“We need to determine whether this would enable us to deliver greater access and benefits to students, create more opportunities for staff, enable greater collaboration with and contribution to our community, and make greater economic, social and cultural contributions to South Australia.

“Today we are announcing the start of a conversation and an exploration, not a destination.”

South Australia has three major public universities, the two city-based universities exploring the merger and Flinders University, which is situated in Adelaide’s southern suburbs. Flinders University has about 25,000 students and 2500 staff compared with Adelaide’s 27,000 students and 3800 staff and UniSA’s 37,000 and 3000 staff.

The question of university mergers has lingered in South Australia for two decades.

However, recent collaborations between the two universities such as their new buildings side by side in the emerging Adelaide BioMed City may have helped the merger talks materialise.

“We can foresee, for example, that combining and consolidating our complementary expertise, particularly in areas like defence, health, agriculture, education and engineering, would position a new university in the top few in Australia for size and scale; may place it firmly within the world’s top 100; and have a reach that could make it one of the most international universities in Australia,” the joint statement from Rear Admiral Scarce and McDowell stated.

“The economy and nature of our society is changing rapidly, and we want to ensure that we have considered all strategic avenues to develop the best breadth and depth of expertise that will provide our students with the opportunity to thrive in the workforce of the future.

“We also need to explore whether this new university will create a wider range of pathways to enable greater access to education for more South Australians.

“Both our universities have unique histories and we have both evolved to meet the needs of each generation. We are now wanting to explore together whether we might build on that proud history, leading to more opportunity for the communities we serve.”

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said the two universities had shown the courage to tackle the long-standing issue head on.

“No matter what the outcome of this process, their intention to work together shows that both institutions have the best interests of South Australia and its prosperity at heart,” he said.

Federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said he welcomed the announcement from two universities that had such distinctive but complementary missions.

“It’s pleasing to see the universities of Adelaide and South Australia acknowledging that bold leaps may be required to deliver higher education that best serves South Australia’s future requirements,” he said.

“Thorough analysis to establish the benefits of any change are quite properly a precondition of final decisions and I look forward to closely assessing the outcomes of this work.”

 

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