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South Australian universities investigate prospects for a merger

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South Australian universities investigate prospects for a merger

The University of Adelaide is a sandstone university ranked among the top 1 per cent of universities around the world, while the University of South Australia is a newer institution focused on preparing its graduates for professional opportunities. Between them they educate about 60,000 students.

Councils sought an assessment to explore options

To chart a future in a highly competitive university environment, the councils of the two universities were considering opportunities to join forces. Despite it long being under consideration, no formal assessment of the idea had previously been undertaken. The two universities jointly engaged Nous to assess the value of creating a new university through a merger of institutions.

Nous’ thorough appraisal looked at the proposal from all angles

Nous brought together a team of specialists with experience in higher education and strategy to work on-the-ground in Adelaide. The Nous team undertook an objective assessment of the merger, including consideration of:

  • teaching and learning: size and student mix, course offering and target student outcomes
  • research: focus areas, capacity for investment and potential university rankings
  • staff and infrastructure: the extent to which the merging parties complemented each other and provided opportunities for efficiencies
  • economic benefits to South Australia.

To fully explore each of these domains, Nous facilitated a public consultation process (via a website to solicit feedback) and engaged with a wide range of senior university stakeholders (through extensive interviews and focus groups). We also undertook deep and rigorous research to explore the full impact of the proposal, including in some domains where we worked closely with both universities to co-design hypothetical merged operations to assess costs and benefits.

To guide the university councils in their decision, we produced a full financial model assessing the implications of a merger and a detailed qualitative assessment of the benefits and challenges.

Our assessment informed university leaders’ decision

The university councils closely considered the report Nous prepared. After much discussion they decided not to proceed with the merger, noting that they were unable to reach agreement on the threshold issues and strategic risks. However, Nous anticipates that the assessment process and resulting report will be valuable resources as the two universities undertake their future strategies.

What you can learn from the universities

  • External support can be vital in providing critical evidence to inform major strategic decisions.
  • Stakeholders need a mechanism in which their confidences will be respected in order to offer fulsome input on contentious issues.
  • A merger assessment must look at the future operating environment as well as at factors internal to the potential merger partners.

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