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Weatherill call for structural reform of SA university sector rebuffed

 22  August 2014

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A call by SA Premier Jay Wetherill for Adelaide’s three universities to consider a full or partial amalgamation has been rebuffed. Nevertheless, a proposal from the three universities proposing the creation of a joint research commercialisation company is expected to be sent to the premier shortly.

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Jay Wetherill

Jay Wetherill addressing CEDA

Weatherill has warned the state’s universities are failing to get full commercial value from their research and says a radical option of merging the three institutions must be considered to create jobs and industries.

He says “structural reform” of SA’s university sector must be considered to ensure they have the “critical mass” to bring products to market.

Wetherill’s call follows the release of the Shaping the Future of SA report, which listed increasing the commercialisation of intellectual property as a key area for action.

It proposed merging the business arms of Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and UniSA to make it easier for industry to make use of research discoveries.

An Adelaide University spokesperson said all three vice-chancellors support a more collaborative approach to research commercialisation.

But she said the idea of merging two or three universities would create a behemoth. Over 80,000 students are enrolled in the three universities.

She also noted that Adelaide’s status and ranking on various university league tables would be seriously compromised by any merger. In this week’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, Adelaide was ranked at 184. Flinders was 378 while UniSA did not make the top 500.

Michael Barber, head of Flinders University, said a merger at this time would not be of any benefit, although there were ongoing talks between the three on how to better commercialise research.

“A merger at this time will not reap a cost benefit and is highly problematic with the potential to distract us from being competitive,” he said in a statement.

David Lloyd, vice-chancellor of UniSA, appeared more open to the idea but said there needed to be clear reasons to engage in any real consideration of the idea.

“It is always worth considering how the university sector increases cooperation, by mergers or other partnerships, but we need to be clear about the expected benefits and have a clear outcome in mind. (But) we need to be careful to not assume that any merger will of itself automatically deliver improved outcomes for students, business or the community.”

A proposal two years ago for a merger  between  Adelaide University and the University of South Australia was similarly rebuffed as too expensive, with the likely costs outweighing the benefits – and opposed by Wetherill himself.

 

 

 

 

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