New Australian universities unite to find common voice

Date: 25/06/2002

Young universities today announced the establishment of the 'New Generation Universities Network' to engage with the Federal Government and each other in discussing education and policy challenges facing young tertiary institutions.

The Network was formed during the inaugural 'New Generation Universities Conference' held in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney during last weekend. It has early affiliate institutions from Ireland and New Zealand and will develop in partnership with the U.K. Coalition of Modern Universities. The international group will reconvene in British Columbia, Canada in 2004.

The 'New Generation Universities Network' will promote a higher education sector that operates for the nation's benefit, fosters diversity and quality, and is a catalyst for emerging fields of research of national and international significance.

"Universities established in the last 30 years have been instrumental in opening up university studies to a greater number of students, and have provided the platform for the growth in new fields of studies and professional education. Their graduates are successful and enterprising, and their research is leading edge and relevant to contemporary problems," said Professor Janice Reid, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, established in 1989.

"However, they do not have the attributes of age and prestige which confer an assumption of excellence, nor the buffer of decades of substantial public investment in infrastructure and alumni endowments.

"New universities often attract a high proportion of first generation tertiary education students and non-English speaking background students. Many younger universities play a very active and central role in the social and economic development of their communities and regions.

"Despite clear differences between newer and older universities, the Government has had a 'one-size-fits-all' policy approach to the higher education sector.

"But a striking feature of conference presentations was the diversity of origins, charters and characteristics of younger universities, a shared concern for focused and integrated research development, social and economic relevance and employment security and flexibility for graduates," Professor Reid said.

Professor Michael Gibbons, Secretary General, Association of Commonwealth Universities, presented a paper to the New Generation Universities Conference on 'Emerging Professions, Knowledge and Multi-disciplinarity in the New University'.

"The new universities are particular well-placed to develop new types of teaching and research programs which are going to be the driver of the new economies. In a time of rapid change the comparative advantage passes to the universities that are not overtly committed to established way of doing this," Professor Gibbons said.

Richard Yelland, Head of the Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education (OECD) told the conference that 'in OECD countries the realisation of life-long education for all is an absolute priority'.

"The new universities have a key role to play in meeting the educational and training needs of a knowledge society," Mr Yelland said.

At this stage Australian Vice-Chancellors who attended the conference have expressed strong interest in joining the Network, subject to the views of their own governing bodies. They represent the following universities: Edith Cowan University, University of the Sunshine Coast, University of Canberra, Central Queensland University, Australian Catholic University, University of Ballarat, University of Victoria, University of South Australia, Southern Cross University and University of Western Sydney.

The inaugural 'New Generation Universities Conference' attracted 35 university leaders from around the world. It was hosted by the University of Western Sydney and co-sponsored by the Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE) of the OECD, and the ACU (Association of Commonwealth Universities).

Professor Reid said all universities with common interests, histories and goals in Australia will be invited to join the Network which she described as a 'partnership of new generation universities that share similar values, challenges and commitments to the economic, social and cultural agenda of the nation.'

The timing of today's announcement is pertinent in relation to the current review of the Australian higher education system, on-going debates about government recognition and funding of our universities, as well as calls for differentiation in the sector.


For more information contact:

Professor J. Reid
Vice-Chancellor, University of Western Sydney
Phone: 02 9678 7800

Professor P. Sheehan
Vice-Chancellor, Australian Catholic University
Phone: 02 9739 2910

Professor M. Poole
Vice-Chancellor, Edith Cowan University
Phone: 08 9273 8205

Mikael Kjaerbye
UWS Media Manager
Ph: 02 9678 7418
Mob 0405 356 021