Costs of Ade­laide merger out­weighed ben­e­fits, says Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - John.ross@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

The gov­ern­ing bod­ies of two South Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties formed vastly dif­fer­ent judge­ments about the mer­its of a pro­posed merger, in­di­cat­ing that the be­trothal was not ended by mu­tual choice.

In­ter­nal emails re­veal that the coun­cil of the 144 year-old Univer­sity of Ade­laide (pic­tured be­low) wanted to join forces with the neigh­bour­ing Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia. But the younger in­sti­tu­tion de­cided that the price would be too high.

In an email to staff, South Aus­tralia vice-chan­cel­lor David Lloyd says a hard-headed anal­y­sis “through a cost-ben­e­fit lens” had con­cluded that the pro­posal did not stack up.

“Weighed against the strate­gic risks, our coun­cil con­cluded that there is not a com­pelling case to sup­port a merger,” the mes­sage says. “The ev­i­dence re­viewed by coun­cil clearly sup­ports the de­ter­mi­na­tion.”

The two uni­ver­si­ties abruptly called off merger ne­go­ti­a­tions orig­i­nally sched­uled to con­tinue at least un­til De­cem­ber – a step that Ade­laide took re­luc­tantly, ac­cord­ing to a memo from chan­cel­lor Kevin Scarce.

“Each univer­sity coun­cil has formed dif­fer­ent views and we have there­fore been un­able to reach agree­ment,” it says. “The Univer­sity of Ade­laide’s coun­cil re­mains con­fi­dent that such a merger would be in the long-term best in­ter­ests of the state.”

The two uni­ver­si­ties are re­main­ing tight-lipped about the fac­tors that scut­tled the pro­posal. “We aren’t elab­o­rat­ing fur­ther on the dis­cus­sions,” they said in a joint re­sponse to ques­tions from Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

The in­sti­tu­tions said “no sin­gle rea­son” had trig­gered the ter­mi­na­tion of the talks, and that ob­servers could ex­pect to see a po­ten­tial merger back on the agenda “no time soon”.

Pro­fes­sor Lloyd’s mes­sage sug­gests that his coun­cil con­cluded that it would sim­ply be too hard to com­bine two in­sti­tu­tions with dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent cul­tures quickly enough to reap the ben­e­fits of larger scale.

The coun­cil con­sid­ered ex­ter­nal brand­ing and rank­ing agency re­ports as well as an in­terim re­port from con­sul­tants Nous Group, and sub­mis­sions col­lected dur­ing pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions.

Gavin Moodie, a for­mer in­sti­tu­tional strate­gist at RMIT Univer­sity, said that the merger would have proved ex­pen­sive, both in time and money, and rapid im­ple­men­ta­tion – within three to five years, as op­posed to a decade or more – would have in­creased the ini­tial costs.

Dr Moodie said that while an amal­ga­ma­tion would have pro­duced sav­ings, they would have taken time to emerge. “[They] could be achieved ear­lier if staff were made re­dun­dant, but the uni­ver­si­ties ruled out forced re­dun­dan­cies aris­ing di­rectly from the amal­ga­ma­tion,” he said.

Dr Moodie said the pro­posal may have fal­tered be­cause the par­ties were un­will­ing to wait for the ben­e­fits to emerge. The uni­ver­si­ties may also have been re­luc­tant to rule out re­dun­dan­cies as long and com­pre­hen­sively as staff wanted.

Nick Warner, Ade­laide branch pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Union, told his mem­bers that “a mul­ti­tude of ques­tions and con­cerns, in­clud­ing over re­dun­dan­cies”, had made staff “wary” of the merger.

He said the union had been seek­ing a “key set of pro­tec­tions” in the event of a merger, along with a “clearly ar­tic­u­lated vi­sion” of the merger process and its ob­jec­tives.

At the very least, the pro­posal’s demise has fore­stalled the forced re­dun­dancy of one of the uni­ver­si­ties’ two vice-chan­cel­lors. It has also pre­vented a reshuf­fling of univer­sity rep­re­sen­ta­tive bod­ies which risked leav­ing the Aus­tralian Tech­nol­ogy Net­work with just three mem­bers, af­ter Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy left the group last month.

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