Historic merger to create super uni given green light

Jacob Shteyman |

Merging Adelaide University and UniSA will create one of Australia’s biggest tertiary institutions.
Merging Adelaide University and UniSA will create one of Australia’s biggest tertiary institutions.

Australia’s biggest university will be formed by a merger after the elated South Australian premier secured the passage of his signature education reform.

The amalgamation of the University of Adelaide and University of South Australia will create the nation’s largest tertiary educator of domestic students.

Premier Peter Malinauskas said it would set up the state’s economy for long term growth. 

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas
Peter Malinauskas said the university merger would set up the state’s economy for long term growth.

The merger was ensured after the government secured the support of two key crossbenchers: SA Best MP Connie Bonaros and One Nation’s Sarah Game.

The pair pledged their votes in the upper house to pass legislation enabling the amalgamation after securing concessions from Labor.

It is hoped the mega-university will break into the top 100 institutions worldwide, attracting both domestic and international students in an increasingly competitive market.

“This is a historic agreement that has now got the ability to set South Australia up to have one of the finest universities not just in the country but also anywhere in the world,” Mr Malinauskas told reporters.

“We don’t want to see young South Australian students going to the University of Melbourne, go to the University of Sydney to get an educational outcome they deserve here home in South Australia.”

The merger has been a major pillar of the government’s policy platform and the premier has invested significant effort and political capital in getting the long-touted move over the line.

It is seen as essential in developing the workforce skills needed to deliver Mr Malinauskas’ other major ambitions – developing green hydrogen and submarine manufacturing industries.

“I mean, this is one of the biggest micro-economic reforms that has occurred in South Australia in decades,” he said. 

These are powerful social and economic institutions and they belong to the people in our state.

“It’s a big deal.”

The government agreed to add $20 million to a $100 million fund for the new university to improve access for disadvantaged and regional students.

The additional funding commitment helped sway Ms Bonaros and Ms Game, who said it was crucial for students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to go to university.

“That is the opportunity that we are providing for those students and for me it crystallised my support for this merger,” Ms Bonaros said.

Both crossbenchers maintained their support was not contingent on any deals with the government to further policies of their own.

Approval for South Australian uni merger
Merging Adelaide University and UniSA will create one of Australia’s biggest tertiary institutions.

In a joint statement, University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Peter Hoj and University of South Australia counterpart David Lloyd said the move would bring transformational investments to teaching, innovation and research.

A parliamentary report endorsed the merger, finding it would improve the economic and social prosperity of the state.

But opposition education spokesman John Gardner and Greens education spokesman Robert Simms expressed concerns about a lack of transparency and the potential that Flinders University would be disadvantaged by increased government funding for Adelaide University.

All up, the government will invest about $450 million in the merger, including two perpetual funds to help grow research and attract more students.

As part of the deal, Flinders will also receive $40 million for student support.

Mr Simms criticised One Nation and Ms Bonaros for waving through the bill before he had been given a chance to file amendments ensuring increased worker protection, greater transparency and a cap on vice-chancellor salaries.

“The dud deal negotiated by One Nation and Ms Bonaros falls well short of what’s required and misses a big opportunity for higher education in our state,” Mr Simms said.