Professor Peter Rathjen: “It’s not a fait acompli. People make an assumption that we are aligned. We are open to the idea.”
The universities of Adelaide and South Australia say strengthening their state as an innovation economy is behind the proposed merger of the two campuses.
December 3 has been set as the date for an announcement of whether the link-up will go ahead.
A briefing paper just released argued the added scale would build on engineering skills, defence, space and agriculture.
Vice chancellors at the unis also want to build the international student market in wake of the green light the sector got from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday.
International education is South Australia’s largest services export, estimated to deliver $1.4 billion to the state economy. But the total value of international students to Australia is about $31.9 meaning billion the two unis between them have only about 6 per cent of the international market.
University of South Australia VC professor David Lloyd said he would like to see a 25 per cent growth in overseas students. While he would like to tap the lucrative Chinese market he said more realistically the merged group could aim for Malaysia, Indonesia India and even sub-Sahara, which already contributes some students to his campus.
“The projection is every international student brings $43,000 a year to the state economy. On top of that about 40 per cent of state tourism is education-linked already.”
While Adelaide is a long way from well-known metropolitan unis in Victoria and NSW, the state could be selling higher education better on grounds of cost and safety – two big marketing tools that are harder to push in eastern states.
“There has to be diversification away from China. I think any institution has to have a diverse base.”
A merged campus would have more that 58,000 students, pole vaulting it to the No.5 position in Australia by size.
Vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide, Professor Peter Rathjen, said adding scale would be the objective and he didn’t see staff cutbacks or cost efficiencies as the main reason for a merger.
“We haven’t flagged cost savings in the discussion paper. We’re seeking rationalisation, growth and staff. This is a growth pitch,” he said.
The two unis have campuses adjoining each other on Adelaide’s North Terrace. Professor Rathjen said that makes a logical reason for merger. But the bigger reason is to put the uni at the centre of the state economy and to take advantage of the regional campuses the two share.
“It’s not a fait accompli,” he said. “People make an assumption that we are aligned. We are open to the idea.”
Vice-chancellor of Melbourne University, Professor Glyn Davis, in his book The Idea of an Australian University, argued the history of the sector had featured numerous mergers – not least when most colleges of advanced education were converted into universities under the Dawkins reforms of the early 1990s
But merger activity has virtually stopped since then. The governments’ recommitment to international students and changes to the demand driven system under Simon Birmingham have set a reasonably predictable outlook for the sector.
Other mergers may be back on the agenda. A mega university including Murdoch, Curtin and Edith Cowan in Western Australia would have massive scale and close proximity to the market in India, which is in a time zone only two hours behind the state, not to mention Indonesia and Malaysia.
A link-up between The ANU and Canberra University is rarely discussed but has the sound of inevitability.
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