Posted 08/12/2022 by: Professor David Lloyd

Toy Story 2...

LOTR: The Two Towers...

The Dark Knight...

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan...


Mad Max: Fury Road...

And of course….

You'll either answer The Godfather part 2 or Empire, and each to their own in that regard.

It's Empire by the way.

Sequels can be great or not so great. (c.f. Jaws: The Revenge) Like difficult second albums - it takes real patience, inspiration and graft to elevate something which could very easily be derivative (I still know what you did last summer) to something which sits far above the original endeavour (Goldfinger). Here’s a fun fact – Leonardo di Caprio made his cinematic debut in the lamentable horror sequel, Critters3 – and has never appeared in a sequel since. (Difficult to imagine him in Titanic 2, I guess.)

My point is – when it comes to sequels, it’s best to take the George Michael approach – and if you’re going to do it, do it right. 1986. Wham!

No doubt you will by now have noticed the flurry of focused media attention on the fact that UniSA and the University of Adelaide are talking to one another about the prospect of creating a new university for the future for the State of South Australia.

Déjà vu all over again? No. Not at all.

While it’s tempting to riff on the sequel theme even further with Never Say Never Again – technically, that was a remake, not a sequel, so I will resist.

This initiative is not a remake, or a re-invention. It’s important to remember that universities are learning organisations. The path followed in 2018 furnished some very important lessons – and we are richer for having had that experience. And it’s also important to remember that, while we didn’t choose to progress matters in 2018, that decision was made for some very specific reasons, and we have remained open to the idea ever since – were it to make sense for our organisation, our students, staff and partners and for the community we serve.

If you look back through the Big Picture blog archive for the keyword ‘merger’ you’ll find five previous musings on the matter, spanning from 2018 to now. We don’t track keyword counts for Indiana Jones, Jaws, Star Trek or Star Wars references, but I’d wager they appear more frequently. I think going forward, we can drop the ‘M’ word, and replace it with a new one – Possibility.

Possibility is altogether a nicer P word than prudence, and one which sits well alongside People, Programs and Precincts as embodying our goals of Enterprise25.

From a University of South Australia perspective, it’s important to note a few things. Firstly, this isn’t our first rodeo. (I’ve always wanted to use that line in a blog). Well, it isn’t. Those versed in history know that we ourselves are a nineties child, a product of amalgamation. And know that it took 30+ years to bed down our activities to become the institution we are today. And we got back on the horse a few times over those 30+ years – but during that time what was being proposed was not going to take us further, faster – it wasn’t good enough, so we said no.

So fast forward to 2022. What’s the state of play now? What’s different?

It could be more appropriate to ask, ‘what’s stayed the same?’ – simply because so much has changed for us all over the last four years. Participation caps, unsustainable funding models, a global pandemic, state demography, migration, travel restrictions, Federal Government programs to produce ‘Job-Ready Graduates’ (something we have been doing exceptionally well for the past 32 years!), international geopolitics, inflation, unemployment rates, academic organisational transformations, foreign interference, skills shortages, freedom of speech model codes, cyber-attacks, the growth in online education, short term short courses and with an ‘Accord’ yet to come… there’ve been a few perturbations to the higher education system during that time, including two Prime Ministers and five different federal education ministers (albeit one who was acting).

Setting aside the State policy imperative for a moment, one thing that hasn’t changed is UniSA’s willingness to explore the art of the possible.

We’re always up for a challenge. Open. Engaged.

Rather than throw our hands up and say, ‘oh here we go again’, we have stepped up to the plate on this matter. We have given it significant thought and consideration. Not our first rodeo, after all. More observant visitors to my office over the last few years have laughed at an envelope taped to the wall with ‘Open in case of merger’ written on the front of it. I confess that I opened it after the state election in March. It contained a list of lessons learned from the 2018 process. Learning organisation, remember? Armed with that information, our Council has been steadfastly stewarding our examination of the State Government’s policy and its implications for UniSA. It has looked through the lens of our University community – our students, staff, alumni and partners, through the lens of federal government and our wider stakeholders – at what could be possible to advance us further, faster. Council gave in-principle consideration to the ‘what’ – what could be achieved. What could it look like? What is in our, the State’s and the Nation’s best interests?

Having clarity around ‘what’ you are trying to achieve allows you to plan a path towards its realisation.

And so Peter Høj and I were asked to work together by our respective Councils to articulate the what.

We started without preconception, from a position of trust and willingness to openly engage with one another – and what we came up with was the following.

  • A unique opportunity exists to create a university for the future
  • The university must be Australia’s new for purpose university - a leading contemporary comprehensive university of global standing
  • The university must be dedicated to ensuring the prosperity, well-being and cohesion of society
  • The university must be measured by the success and impact of its students, staff and alumni
  • The university must dedicate itself to addressing educational inequality
  • The university must be Australia’s most connected university - partnered with the communities it serves
  • The university must conduct outstanding future-making research of scale and focus, recognising that excellence and equity are wholly compatible

These are paramount objectives for a new university which must benefit South Australia academically, culturally and commercially, while advancing Australia’s reputation for providing the best in tertiary education. A university for the future with new and contemporary curriculum, quality and relevant teaching and research and an outstanding student experience and outcomes.

Pause now for a moment. Re-read that list.

This is what UniSA and our colleagues in the University of Adelaide believe is possible.

What we believe we can work toward.

Of course, behind all of this is myriad and detailed modelling of growth trajectories, scale and composition, systems and approaches to innovate in research, engagement and curriculum design. There are considerations for protecting staffing numbers and providing certainty to students and partners. Considerations about how best to preserve and further enhance a culture and spirit of enterprise and recognition that creation of the new is a clear goal, not a mere merger and certainly not a takeover – real or perceived. And there’s a clear need for investment to realise the ambition. Which all comes at a cost. A cost that would have to be met through government support, if this were to be progressed successfully. It also would not happen overnight – designing and delivering the new while concurrently delivering the existing is not feasible – a mechanism to create space to create the new would be necessary. To achieve all this would take considerable time, effort and resource. Further modelling through a feasibility phase will tell whether that investment stacks up and makes sense – to inform the key decision to progress or not.

But what we do know is what we want what to look like, and we believe that it is possible.

Our respective Councils believe it is possible and they have resolved to go further than before – into a diligence phase over the next six months, where your voices and the voices of our stakeholders will be heard, and listened to. That is the next step.

Oh, and all those matters that were held up as such insurmountable obstacles to progress by the ill-informed observer in 2018? Well, it turns out that when you have depth of thought and clarity on the what – such matters are more readily agreed. Which they have largely been – and in brief, should a decision be made to progress to create the university for the future at the end of our feasibility phase (by mid-year next year), then:

  • The combined university is intended to be operational from January 2026
  • There would be no net job losses as a consequence of creating the combined university.
  • The combined university would be called ‘Adelaide University’
  • A new brand building on the legacies of the two institutions would be developed for the combined university
  • The combined university would be created and governed by new legislation modelled in large part on the University of South Australia Act
  • The University of South Australia would nominate the Chancellor of a Transition Council in consultation with the University of Adelaide
  • The composition of the Transition Council would be nominated by each institution equally
  • A co-leadership model would be implemented initially, with University of South Australia and the University of Adelaide each appointing one of two co-Vice chancellors
  • The-co-leadership model would operate until the appointment and commencement of a Vice-Chancellor for the combined university

None of this should alarm you. I realise that uncertainty causes concern, and apologise for that. There are myriad questions to answer and a lot of work to be done by a focused team to provide all of those answers ahead of the end of June 2023. And remember, even if the decision is made to go ahead, UniSA and the University of Adelaide will be continuing as they currently are, to deliver great education and research, to graduate outstanding graduates and to engage with our partners in the years ahead of us combining to take our new collective mission forward together.

Personally, I feel that we are poised on the brink of possibility and opportunity. It ought to be exciting, not daunting – because together we can advance something unique, something that’s not been done at this scale ever before, anywhere – and something which, if supported, could transform higher education not only in this state, but in this nation. That has to be worth looking at.

For the record, in the cannon of 13 Star Trek movies and sequels to date, for me, it’s a tie between number 2 and number 8. With number 11 right up there. And 6...

Patience, inspiration and graft are all at the ready for what could be a summer blockbuster. 

Professor David Lloyd

Through The Big Picture, I hope that our whole community gains a greater and current appreciation of what is going on, how it fits together and how our activities connect and reinforce each other at a whole of enterprise level.


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