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19 Nov 2014

University of Adelaide (140th Anniversary)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 16:01 ): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that 2014 is the 140 th anniversary of the University of Adelaide;

2. Acknowledges the significant achievements of the university, past and present; and

3. Promotes the future of the university as a world-class institution.

I move this motion to recognise the work of the university as a South Australian who is proud of the achievements of one of its greatest institutions and also as an alumnus of its Law School and a former director of its International Centre for Financial Services, which is a centre of the Business School. As a matter of courtesy, I inform the chamber that I will bring this motion to a vote on the last sitting week. As this parliament will be prorogued, I wish this motion to have life in this chamber and not wither.

The passing of the motion is important, in my view, as a mark of respect for the university. I note that the member for Hartley intends to move an identical motion in the other place, but I think it is important, as we are the older of the chambers, that we take the lead on this motion. Like the work of the university, our deliberations have been integral as part of the success of the state and have been a key contributor to its prosperity.

A state is judged by its universities. Our nation state of South Australia can be assured that it will be judged favourably because of the excellence that shares North Terrace with the parliament—the University of Adelaide. It is critical for the future of South Australia that its oldest university should capture the imagination as well as the hearts of the public, for it can be said that the future of the state and the university are inextricably linked. We must walk together to advance the interests of the peoples of our state.

The University of Adelaide was established on 6 November 1874 and was founded with a noble goal: to prepare for South Australia young leaders shaped by education rather than by birth or wealth in a settlement free of any social or religious inequalities of the old world. The university’s first vice-chancellor, Dr Augustus Short, had a vision for the university to be open to investigate new fields of study other than the narrow classics curriculum on offer at Oxford University at the time. This vision was realised in 1882 when the university became the first in Australia to offer degrees in science.

The vision and spirit of inquiry continued to be embraced and so, before reaching the 1900s, degrees such as law, medicine, mathematics, mining and engineering were also offered. The university also broke from the tradition of the British by offering scholarships through competition that was open to any South Australian resident, regardless of background. In fact, there were many ground-breaking initiatives of which the university should be justly proud. For example, in as early as 1881, the university was the first in South Australia and the second in the world to admit women on equal terms as men to academic courses, who were equally as eligible for all academic prizes and honours. This was some 40 years before women could undertake degrees at Oxford.

On that note, it is important that we recognise the contribution the university has made to advancing the interests of women in higher education. Indeed, the university’s first science graduate, Edith Emily Dornwell, who graduated in 1885, was the first person in Australia to receive the degree of Bachelor of Science. The university also graduated Australia’s first female surgeon, Laura Fowler, and Australia’s first woman to receive a doctorate in music, Ruby Davy. The university was also the first to establish a Conservatorium of Music, a Chair of Music and a Doctor of Music and was the first to offer such degrees to women in 1918.

Indeed, the university soon established itself as an exceptional intellectual environment that offered courses of a high academic quality. It was because of this reputation that it managed to attract leading academics such as Sir William Bragg, who became a Professor of Mathematics and Physics and who, together with his son, won the Nobel prize in physics in 1915, as well as the renowned Antarctic explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson, who spent 31 years as Professor of Geology and Mineralogy. Its early first-class reputation also extended to its outstanding graduates who made significant contributions to their fields. These exemplary graduates include Nobel laureates, Howard Florey, Lawrence Bragg, Mark Oliphant and Hugh Cairns.

I believe the university’s ability to draw strength from its founding values has enabled it to continue to fulfil its research and teaching aspirations to the present day. A university should never be forced to be or become a factory. To its credit, Adelaide University actively embraces the ideal of the research university, where excitement, enthusiasm, dedication and passion in the search of knowledge is one in which all students have the opportunity to participate. It has become one of the most research-intensive universities in the country, with its researchers active in both basic and commercially-oriented research across a variety of disciplines, including finance, management, health sciences, agriculture and engineering.

To this end, it has established a number of world-class research institutes, such as the International Centre for Financial Services, the Robinson Research Institute, the Waite Research Institute and the Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources, in order to address state and national research priorities in areas of national and global importance. It is now ranked in the top 1 per cent of universities worldwide and is a member of the prestigious Group of Eight, a coalition of Australia’s foremost research-intensive universities. In 2010 it became associated with Excellence in Research for Australia’s top five rated disciplines and by 2011 its research income had increased to $170 million, one of the highest growth rates over that period in the Group of Eight universities.

The sharing of information and dissemination of knowledge has also been a key philosophy that the university has continued to foster through public lectures, music concerts, public exhibitions and its media outlets, such as Radio Adelaide, On Dit and the Adelaidean. I commend it for continuing to engage with the wider community in this way.

The future of higher education is now being reshaped by globalisation and the digital revolution and I believe, with its distinct identity and sense of purpose, the university will continue to flourish into the future. The university’s founding vision has never been more relevant or important to ensure it continues to successfully navigate the challenges that await this state and the university sector. I am in no doubt the university will continue to provide intellectual and cultural leadership in our community. The public of South Australia needs men and women of great moral courage and integrity, with a desire to seek the truth and to be the leaders of the state.

Beyond the professional training, all students should take the opportunity to understand the importance of holding true to one’s values. Adelaide University provides the perfect environment for students to discover the best in themselves. The road ahead for our state is not clear. We face many challenges. We know we must look beyond our borders into Asia to secure our future. The world of the University of Adelaide will be of critical importance to achieving the aspirations of the parliament. I commend the university for its 140 years of serving the state and look forward to seeing it continue to achieve excellence on the national and global stage. I commend the motion to the council.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.

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