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‘We are going to make this happen’: Premier backs in uni merger

A “determined” Premier Peter Malinauskas says merging the universities of Adelaide and South Australia is “not a done deal but we are going to make this happen” – despite the Vice-Chancellors telling students and staff this week they had a “genuine opportunity to have your voice heard and shape that decision”.

Mar 30, 2023, updated Mar 30, 2023
Left and right photos: Tony Lewis/InDaily. Peter Malinauskas photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP. Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Left and right photos: Tony Lewis/InDaily. Peter Malinauskas photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP. Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Malinauskas said he was “determined” to amalgamate the universities while speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia “state of the state” event yesterday.

The Premier told a packed house that the Productivity Commission had been tasked with determining the research, development and ranking opportunities of the proposed new university, with the view to it having a “mainstay position” close to the top 50 universities in the world.

The universities announced in December they had agreed to investigate a merger with a feasibility study and business case – but declared any new institution would be called Adelaide University and open on January 1, 2026.

“I am determined to make sure we pull this (merger) off,” Malinauskas said yesterday.

“We are going to pull this off… we are going to make this happen.

“This is a massive project and people said it was never going to happen, well, watch.”

But asked by InDaily after the event if the university merger was a done deal, Malinauskas said: “No”.

“If it was a done deal, I would have been announcing it today,” he said.

“It’s not a done deal, but we are going to make this happen. That’s my government’s policy.”

It comes after the Vice-Chancellors of the universities of Adelaide and South Australia sent emails to students, staff and graduates on Monday asking for feedback on their “vision statement” for the proposed new university.

This is a genuine opportunity to have your voice heard and shape that decision

University of Adelaide’s Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj wrote that feedback would be used for a business case to be presented to the universities’ councils at the end of June.

“Remember that we are still in the feasibility stage of this process and no decision will be made until the end of June,” he wrote.

“This is a genuine opportunity to have your voice heard and shape that decision.”

University of South Australia vice-chancellor David Lloyd wrote: “Remember that we are still in the feasibility stage of this process, and no decision will be made until the middle of the year, when the business case goes to both university councils”.

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Malinauskas said yesterday that if the merger talks broke down between the universities of Adelaide and South Australia, then the government “reserved the right” to re-establish a commission to “pursue a university amalgamation to make it happen”.

“There’s no reason to suggest that’s about to occur,” he said.

“I hate talking about hypotheticals because they’re not immediately relevant to the current context.”

The government previously committed $1 million and three full-time staff towards the commission, but it was put on ice in December when the universities signed a “statement of cooperation” with the state and federal governments in December to pursue merger talks.

As early as Monday, a state government spokesperson said the university merger was still a possibility.

“The Malinauskas Government took a promise to the state election to chart the process for a possible university amalgamation in South Australia,” the spokesperson told InDaily.

“The release of the universities’ joint vision statement, as part of this process, is an exciting step towards the possible realisation of this vision.

“We look forward to a final decision by mid-2023.”

If the merger takes place, a transition council would be created with up to 14 members plus a chancellor, with each university nominating half the members. UniSA would nominate the chancellor and, in the first instance, the leadership would be shared between two co-Vice-Chancellors.

A successful merger would immediately make the new university the largest educator of Australian students in the country.

The state government has offered an unspecified financial sweetener to the institutions to “maximise the transformational opportunities being pursued”.

A state government spokesperson told InDaily this morning that the Premier in December asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into “turning research into economic competitiveness for South Australia”.

They said the inquiry would provide the state government with independent advice on how to improve the state’s economic growth.

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