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Philip Bell is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Damien Harkin is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Damien Harkin commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

I tend to agree with the majority of comments made so far. 

From reading the joint comments made by David Lloyd and Peter Rathjen in The Australian this week, it seems clear that if a merger is to occur, then they will be looking to create a new university that is genuinely different. With this in mind, my suggestion would be to name the new university after Dame Roma Mitchell, the first female judge in Australia, former chancellor of the University of Adelaide and former Governor of SA.

The name "Mitchell University" certainly has a nice ring to it and it would be an exciting opportunity for those charged with the responsibility of designing and leading the new institution. Nevertheless, from the comments made by experienced people such as Leo, Judy and others, it is clear that considerable caution is required. Mergers are painful, costly and often require around 10 years before the full benefits are seen. Considerable benefits, however, can arise simply by having the discussion; even if the merger doesn't go through. So as a former graduate and staff member of the University of Adelaide, I think it is a healthy discussion to have and I look forward to seeing what new ideas will emerge. 

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Peter Wiseman is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Hamish Ride is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Tony Heywood commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

Leo Goedegebuure's final point is the key one for me - but why? What's the convincing strategy behind the proposal? I'm not sold that bigger would be better argument to attract more research or international students to South Australia. This may be the case if there was something different offered by the new entity, although it is most likely that the range of activities that currently occurring in two institutions would be occurring within one.

Decades of Government rhetoric has focused around specialisation of higher education institutions, from the Dawkins amalgamations, to Brendan Nelson's Crossroads and into more recent times. The reality has been convergence into large comprehensive universities rather than differentiation, primarily in coursework offerings. New courses that prove successful in one institution are quickly copied in others. Everyone offers an MBA. It seems nearly everyone wants a Medical School. 

The structure of academic units within universities presents an interesting comparison. There isn't a 'standard' model across the sector, although my involvement with colleagues in Faculty General Manager roles indicates the trend in recent times is towards larger groupings. Often savings have been cited as key reasons for restructures into larger units. Conversely, when restructures result in smaller units (e.g. Schools as the largest grouping), the rationale lies in being responsive to the needs of specific disciplines that doesn't occur in superfaculties. Ultimately every structure has its positives and negatives.

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Maximilian de Courten commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

Not knowing much about the two universities in the Adelaide area under merger discussion and what the synergistic effects, efficiencies and complementary aspects would be, I like to contribute to the discussion from the greater Melbourne geography:

do we need to have such a large number of universities concentrated here if to some extent they seem to offer the same degrees (duplication); collaborate very little amongst each other (isolation and 'competition'); and in some faculties yet are too small to offer a comprehensive suite of courses (lack of diversity). The notion that the student could choose and pick units to derive at an optimal tailored and stimulating mix across different universities - as it seems to work across Scandinavia and within the TropEd network - has not been implemented here (with some initial but abandoned trials).

So the second best solution could be then a merger...    

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Maximilian de Courten is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Tony Heywood is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Kathleen Rabel is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Clare Mullen commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

I don't have specific expertise in the education sector, but I'd echo the point about change management and staff engagement. In big organisations it can be difficult for staff to feel personally connected to the organisation - without feeling just like a number. Where this occurs, this is inevitably also experienced by the end users - in this case, students and research/industry partners.

The challenge in any merger - and in any mega-organisation - is how to maintain the personal touch and community that many of us value in the organisations where we learn and work.

The other issue of reducing research duplication - while on one level definitely of value - is that of missing out on divergent and possibly innovative points of view by bringing research groups together and presumably reducing the numbers of people who are involved.

 

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Malcolm Kinns is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Clare Mullen is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Santina Betone is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Santina Betone commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

I'm not convinced of the merit of combining UniSa and Uni of Adelaide. The stated reasons for the merger are about context  - the low growth of domestic student numbers in SA and the difficulty of attracting international students. How is that going to change if the two institutions merge and become one larger institution? The context will remain the same.

It also seems that both institutions are currently performing very well as they are. Both rank highly on both the teaching and research scales. it is incorrect to say that larger institutions will always do better. Look at Swinburne University of Technology where I work - we outperform University of Melbourne and Deakin etc. in the QILT data for teaching and learning. And we do well on the ERA and AWRU rankings.  Merging the two institutions could easily lead to lower quality in the short to medium term. Take learning and teaching for example. Sure there are economies of scale in providing the same management or accounting first year unit to double the number of students. How this will be achieved is most likely by giving the same junior academic double the number of students and casual tutors to manage. A decline in quality and a less personalised learning environment is likely to result.

Regarding economies of scale on the administration side. it is likely that many junior administrative staff would lose their jobs. On the other hand, it is also likely that many more senior executive roles - directors, PVCs, DVCs - would be created to help manage a more 'complex' set of operations. So much for savings.

Moreover, universities are already having difficulties with the centralisation and depersonalisation of administrative support services such as finance, HR, student administration etc. Merging and creating larger admin departments would tend to exacerbate these problems, creating more distance between the administrators and the academics in faculties and departments. 

Perhaps a better way would be for the two institutions to collaborate more in joint research institutes and course offerings rather than to merge.

Finally, I would not like to see mergers being introduced in the Eastern states, for the reasons mentioned above. If funding is inadequate, it should be tackled as a funding issue, rather than creating more mega universities. 

 

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Chloe Mortimer is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Judy Szekeres commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

While there were some failures in the original Dawkins mergers, there were lots of successes as well - UniSA being one of them - which may be why it is now contemplating this rather more difficult merger with Adelaide Uni.  More difficult I think because of the very different cultures of the two institutions. Having worked in both of them, I think this will be their biggest challenge. I'm still a bit bemused by the notion that you have to be a very large university to be in the top 100.  There are lots of very large institutions which are a long way from that spot. In my view, this says something about the measures that are being used and how skewed they are. 

The thing that worries me most about the proposal (and I no longer have any skin in this game), is that Universities are notoriously bad at change management and they will need lots of it in this sort of merger.  There will particularly be a large number of redundant administrative jobs and merging the school/faculty structures will be a serious headache that I am not convinced will be managed well.  There will be lots of angst and this will chew up energy and attention for a couple of years. By the time it's all over, the world will have moved on, leaving an elephantine institution having to play catch-up.

The word is that there already ARE other institutions considering the same approach - I hope it doesn't result in a very small number of huge institutions, reducing student choice (which will certainly be the case in Adelaide - one city institution and one on the outskirts) and ending up a bland same/same sector.

 

 

 

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Bob Dick is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Judy Szekeres commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

The merger of TAFE colleges and universities has been tried in Victoria - it is not a great outcome for anyone.  They are very different beasts, with quite different agendas and missions and approaches to teaching - in my view it results in the TAFE being less about training for skills and trying to become more like a university (which it absolutely should not do) and is just a big administrative burden on the university, with systems that largely can't cater for the other sector.  Certainly it has proved there is no saving in costs.

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Rodd Pahl is now contributing to a Challenge 25 million and counting

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Judy Szekeres is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Mike Metcalfe is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Mike Metcalfe commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

I can see how merging will improve a universities position in the world ranking, due to the way they are calculated. Given universities are so top heavy with admin required by govt regulations, a merger should mean thousands of redundancies. But libertarians would prefer we decentralise and deregulate degree awarding institutions. At least the non Big8. This might encourage boutique or specialised universities, in say arts, science, AI, and entrepreneurship, genuinely competing with each other and especially with online MOOCS. Between university credits exist already. Yet regulation means, Universities are not accrediting quality international MOOCS. 

Importantly these universities would be required to use a centralised, independent, govt?, examination centre to ensure quality and avoid the conflict of interest that is destroying universities at present. That is, by examining your own fee paying customers. Quality would be measured by exam results not policy papers and the size of libraries etc. Thus students could study anywhere, anyhow, and then just sit the centralised transparent exams to graduate. Some Professional exam bodies do this now. 

The way forward might be to privitise the non Big8, they are 80% funded by student fees now. I suspect they would then be free of excessive bureaucracy and able to be innovative and responsive in the new online international world? This includes designing a better social learning experience than large lecture halls allow. 

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Mark Churcher is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Katriona Kinsella is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Adrian CV is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Peter Grimbeek commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

It depends on one's perspective. If the perspective is that of quality research, I suspect that small groups working closely together remain the way to do scientific research.

For an enjoyable read that illustrates the above, I recommend Lab girl, A story of trees, science and love, by Hope Jahren.

The exception to this rule is the CRC, where several universities obtain mega-grants by acting in concert.

If the perspective is that of the cattle crush, then one can certainly get economies of scale by amalgamating, merging, etc. Again, the question becomes whether this course of action gives rise to quality education or more simply mass education.

As Leo Goedegebuure reminds us, the notion of making things bigger and better via strategic mergers is nothing new. Dawkins arguably destroyed as much as he improved in the mergers of teacher's colleges and universities, etc.

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Peter Grimbeek commented on the Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

It depends on one's perspective. If the perspective is that of quality research, I suspect that small groups working closely together remain the way to do scientific research.

For an enjoyable read that illustrates the above, I recommend Lab girl, A story of trees, science and love, by Hope Jahren.

The exception to this rule is the CRC, where several universities obtain mega-grants by acting in concert.

If the perspective is that of the cattle crush, then one can certainly get economies of scale by amalgamating, merging, etc. Again, the question becomes whether this course of action gives rise to quality education or more simply mass education.

As Leo Goedegebuure reminds us, the notion of making things bigger and better via strategic mergers is nothing new. Dawkins arguably destroyed as much as he improved in the forced mergers of teacher's colleges and universities, etc.

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University of Newcastle Ryan is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

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Leo Goedegebuure is now contributing to a Challenge Mega-universities and mergers

 
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