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Universities of Adelaide and SA revive merger talks, with new combined uni pitched for 2026

ABC News (AU) logo ABC News (AU) 7/12/2022
A merger between UniSA and the University of Adelaide is now back on the cards. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall) © Provided by ABC News (AU) A merger between UniSA and the University of Adelaide is now back on the cards. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

Despite previous stalled efforts, the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia are now closer to merging than ever before, after reviving talks to amalgamate and rebrand as a single institution within three years.

The state government has said the two universities had reached agreement "regarding a formal pathway" to combine, and that they would now work together to create a feasibility and business case to become the biggest university in Australia for domestic students.

The university would be named Adelaide University and be operational from January 2026.

Deputy Premier Susan Close said while it was not yet a done deal, the two unis were now closer to formally merging than they had been last time round.

"The two universities have agreed to go through a feasibility stage now to see if they want to go ahead with a merger," she said.

"It [would] immediately put us as the biggest educator of Australian students in the country, the second biggest educator of students from low [socio-economic] backgrounds and in the top 10 for Aboriginal students going to university."

The state government has promised to financially contribute towards the cost of a merger deal but said "there would be no net job losses as a consequence of creating the combined university".

It also said a merger would require new legislation to create and govern the institution, and that the Commonwealth had agreed to support the feasibility assessment.

Ms Close said the state government would determine how much money it needed to invest in coming weeks, but did not give a dollar figure.

Name and leadership hurdles cleared

A previous proposal to merge was announced amid public fanfare in June 2018, but fell through without detailed explanation months later.

Last year, the ABC revealed that top officials could not agree on what to name the institution and how to choose its leaders — but Ms Close said that, this time round, those hurdles had already been cleared.

"While there is no guarantee that this will go ahead, we are already a lot further than we've ever been before," she said.

"They have agreed on the name, they've agreed on the leadership, and we've been able to sign a document with the South Australian government involved as well. None of those three things have happened before."

In a joint statement, University of Adelaide chancellor Catherine Branson and UniSA chancellor Pauline Carr said they were "delighted" by the prospect of joining forces. 

"With appropriate government support, we believe this is all possible and through our feasibility phase we hope to show that it can be realised," they said.

"We believe that through a union of equals and combining the best of our present institutions, a future institution could deliver teaching of the highest quality."

During its time in opposition, Labor promised to establish a University Merger Commission, but has now said that, given the announcement, it would now "defer the establishment" of a commission "until at least mid-2023".

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