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UCL closure kills Uni City dream in Adelaide

By Malcolm King - posted Tuesday, 3 February 2015


Adelaide's university city plan is dead.

The closure of the University College London (UCL) Adelaide campus in 2017 ends South Australia's relationship with one of the world's great research universities.

The campus opened in Victoria Square in 2010 as part of the former Rann Government's strategy to create a university city. The aim was to draw expertise and knowledge together in a cultural research network and drive the commercialisation of intellectual property.

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Sounds a bit 'airy fairy' doesn't it? The 'commercialisation of intellectual property'. But here's the strength of university cities. Researchers working together from different institutions on the intersecting boundaries of their own fields, make world-breaking findings across the sciences. That's is what's happening with cancer research.

The researchers not only bring money and kudos to the cities in which they work but also more researchers of a world class standard. It doesn't happen over night. It takes 20 years or so. It's the reverse of brain drain, something Adelaide has in spades.

UCL blamed 'academic and financial risk and a change to its international strategy' for the pending closure. But the real reason was UCL's utter dissatisfaction with Premier Jay Weatherill and the state government who had walked away from the project.

In 2012, former UCL President and Provost Professor Malcolm Grant accused the state government of failing to drive the university-city agenda. UCL had come to Adelaide, despite the challenge of entering a new market in lean times, because of its central location in Australia and reach to Asian markets.

UCL currently employs 22 staff and has about 100 local and international Master of Science students, specialising in resources and energy.The campus was doing so well that six months ago its Adelaide CEO David Travers, was consideringexpanding its postgraduate programs and pursuing partnerships with other Australian universities.

In 2011 it signed a five year $10M deal with BHP Billiton to establish an Institute for Financial Resources in London and an International Energy Policy Institute in Adelaide. UCL had planned to expend one million pounds this year on the Adelaide campus to drive growth.

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UCL Adelaide is research-led with a strong emphasis on postgraduate education. Training and teaching is informed by the latest research conducted by staff. It's specialisation in resources and energy is strategically important to SA and the campus has significant outreach and public engagement.

The South Australian government provided UCL with $4.5m worth of support across its first seven years, while Santos provided $10m across five years. It's the only international university in Adelaide that has attracted corporate investment. Much of its success can be attributed to Travers.

UCL is ranked the fifth best university in the world by the QS World Universities Rankings and is rated 21st by both the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Times Higher Education rankings (2013). It is one of the most prestigious research and teaching universities in the world. The University of Adelaide ranks 100th in the QS World Universities Rankings. The difference between the two institutions is not incremental. It's logarithmic.

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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