UniSA pulls the pin on merger talks

The South Australia university merger is off, with discussions ending before the planned December decision date.

The chancellors of the universities of Adelaide and South Australia issued a carefully constructed statement yesterday advising that both their councils had considered an interim report on a merger and concluded “they were unable to reach agreement on the threshold issues and strategic risks.”

However, UniAdelaide chancellor Kevin Scarce separately stated, “the University of Adelaide’s council remains confident that such a merger would be in the long-term best interests of the state.”

In contrast, University of SA VC David Lloyd advised staff, “our council concluded that there is not a compelling case to support a merger of the two universities and that consequently, the process of exploring a merger should cease.”

“Our university has been cautious never to allow the light of optimism or ambition to blind robust and evidence-based projection and planning. We have arrived at an outcome which may be reflected on by some as a missed opportunity and equally by others as the outcome of choice – such is the nature of debate and investigation on matters of importance and where both heads and hearts are invested in the result. The evidence today reviewed by council clearly supports the determination reached,” he said.

Professor Lloyd said his university’s council had examined and “discussed in detail”, “associated cost projections and models, the risk profile arising from key assumptions made and the status of considerations such as timelines for delivery, transition arrangements, and proposals related to the subsequent governance, leadership, mission and values of any merged institution.”

It also appears that as internal discussions occurred merger support in the University of Adelaide community was not solid as first appeared. “During our roadshow we spoke to 18 different groups of staff and heard the same things; while a merger could have had potential benefits, there were also a multitude of questions and concerns, including over redundancies, which made staff wary of what a merger process and final product may have looked like in reality,” Nick Warner, university branch president of the National Tertiary Education Union, told members yesterday.

So that’s that, until the next funding downturn and a premier, as SA premiers regularly do, suggests a merger of two, or all three, of SA public universities.  What yesterday’s news demonstrates is that it will take government to rationalise SA university resources. “Where’s John Dawkins when you need him?” a learned reader asked yesterday.


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