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University of Adelaide and UniSA in merger talks

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The University of Adelaide and UniSA have announced historic talks to merge into a single university which they claim could be immediately placed within the world’s top 100 universities.

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The governing councils of both universities have agreed to a six-month “period of collaboration” to negotiate a potential merger, according to a joint statement released by the universities today.

University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen and UniSA Vice-Chancellor David Lloyd will oversee a joint report into the prospective merger, to be delivered by the end of the year.

The university councils will decide on the viability and merits of a merger at that time.

All current courses, student services and research collaborations will continue while the universities consult with staff, students, alumni, industry, government and other stakeholders on the proposal.

In a joint statement, University of Adelaide Chancellor Kevin Scarce and UniSA Chancellor Jim McDowell say now is the right time to consider joining together as a single university.

“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,” the statement reads.

“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.

“The question of mergers between universities has bounced around South Australia, as it has in other states, for two decades.

“As two institutions that already sit alongside one another on North Terrace, that collaborate in areas like the SA Biomed City project, and are successful in their own right, we should now grasp the opportunity to consider the merits of a shared future for both institutions.

“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 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.”

Meanwhile, Flinders University says it is strong and growing in its own right.

“Flinders University continues to grow, with strong foundations and prospects for further growth, not only in Adelaide but the other regions in which the University operates, including the Northern Territory and regional South Australia and Victoria,” a statement from the university says.

“Flinders welcomes competition which it regards as an important driver of innovation and quality teaching to the benefit of students.”

Merging the Adelaide University and UniSA was an ambition of former Labor Premier Jay Weatherill in 2015, but universities and both sides of federal politics were opposed to the idea.

Then-federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne reportedly said at the time: “If the University of Adelaide was to merge with the University of South Australia we would lose overnight a top-100 university in the world because they’d fall down the rankings immediately. It would take about a decade to recover.”

However, this morning Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, Premier Steven Marshall and SA Labor Leader Peter Malinauskas all congratulated the universities on the move.

“I welcome today’s announcement between two universities that have such distinctive but complementary missions,” said Birmingham.

“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.

“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.”

Marshall said: “I applaud the universities of Adelaide and South Australia for their courage in addressing this 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.”

Malinauskas told InDaily in a statement: “Labor welcomes the leadership shown by the two universities to explore this opportunity.”

“The higher education sector is critical to the future of our state, and all efforts should be made to realise the full potential of our universities.”

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis, Dr Jane Lomax-Smith and former deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, and former University of Technology Sydney Vice-Chancellor Ross Milbourne will be among a number of external consultants advising the joint body made up of the two South Australian universities’ governing boards on the prospective merger.

In an email to University of Adelaide alumni today, Scarce stresses that it was “business as usual” for the foreseeable future and no final decision had yet been taken.

“(Both) universities will undertake extensive consultations with you, as well as with students and staff, business, industry, government and members of the community, over the next six months,” the email says.

“There is no foregone conclusion and regardless of the outcome of these discussions, there will be no immediate impact on our teaching and research, and the academic programs our students are currently studying will not be impacted.

“Our graduates will remain alumni of the University of Adelaide.”

InDaily has contacted Flinders University for comment.

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