Speirs ‘quite sceptical’ about uni merger push

Opposition leader David Speirs said he will “take some convincing” to support merging the universities of Adelaide and South Australia, suggesting the Upper House could vote to delay amalgamation.

Aug 21, 2023, updated Aug 21, 2023
Opposition leader David Speirs. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Opposition leader David Speirs. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Malinauskas Government has committed $444.5m to support a merger between the University of Adelaide and UniSA but still needs to pass legislation in the Upper House to create a new public university.

If the Liberal Party votes against the merger, Labor will be forced to turn to the crossbench for support.

A parliamentary inquiry into the merger has for the last two weeks been holding public hearings looking at the benefits and risks of the proposed amalgamation.

“Our position is we do have an open mind; we want to find out more information about this,” Speirs told ABC Radio Adelaide on Monday.

“Because so much information about this, particularly around the business cases and the viability of this project from a financial point of view, hasn’t been made public.

“That’s why this parliamentary committee has been reasonably useful… but I’m quite sceptical of this. The universities have said that they have made this decision themselves and the councils got together and voted on it.

“We don’t quite know who voted which way yet, that information has been withheld from the public.

Asked whether the Upper House would delay the merger if a vote was held today, Speirs said: “I think the Upper House will take some convincing… if there was a vote today – I think that’s what could very well happen.

“The (Liberal Party) clearly has its position of being open-minded, but as an individual leading the party, as an alumni of one of these universities, I am sceptical and will take some convincing.”

Speirs highlighted the views of former University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington, who told the parliamentary inquiry earlier this month that the merger was a “solution to a problem South Australia doesn’t have” and risks creating a “lumbering dinosaur dependent on an outdated business model”.

Bebbington asked MPs to delay passage of legislation for at least a year until its clear what reforms emerge from the federal review of higher education, known as the Australian Universities Accord.

The Accord’s final report is not due until December and any legislative reforms stemming from the review will not come before federal parliament until 2024.

InDaily in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Speirs said: “My concern is that once this (the merger) happens, you can’t unscramble the egg.

“If you go down the path of merging the two of the largest organisations in the state, organisations which are owned by the people of South Australia in my assessment… if you’re going down that track, you’ve got to get it right.”

Speirs said that Bebbington also noted that some cities internationally were “moving away from super universities into smaller, more niche universities based around particular faculties or specialities”.

“We need to know more about that because if the world’s heading in another direction, do we really want to be creating this really big super university?” he said.

Further, the federal government was “undergoing a big change as to the way that it will fund universities in the future”.

“It’s about 12 months before that will be decided. So perhaps we should put things on hold until we have an idea of how the land is going to lie after that decision is made,” Speirs said.

The current vice-chancellors of the University of Adelaide and UniSA last week dismissed Bebbington’s calls for delay and rejected his argument that the merger was not aligned with the Accord.

UniSA vice-chancellor David Lloyd also repeated a claim made in July that delaying the merger by six months could cost South Australia $250m.

Labor wants to pass legislation by the end of the year so the new Adelaide University can open by January 2026.

The merger inquiry resumes public hearings on Monday, September 4.

Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.