Sydney’s newest uni boss flags new era of co-operation with old rival16th July 2021
For decades, Sydney has been a tale of two universities. Sydney University, founded in 1850 on sandstone and classics, is on one side of the city while the University of NSW, the 70-year-old upstart that grew out of a tech college, is on the other.
They are both world-renowned; they are both leaders in research, but they are not close friends. The rivalry ranges from polite to intense. In quantum physics “it’s like the Russia versus US space race,” said one person familiar with both universities on the condition of anonymity.
Mark Scott, who picks up a professor title when he becomes the 27th vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney on Monday, wants to change that by increasing formal, cross-institution collaboration between the old adversaries.
“The kinds of challenges that we are facing, the answers will not be found, often, within one institution on their own,” he said. “The power will come in partnerships. [To] recognise that others will be able to bring things that you don’t have, and that you will both benefit as a consequence of being able to work together effectively and well.”
Multi-disciplinary centres within universities have been great successes. Victoria’s top universities, Melbourne and Monash, collaborate as well as compete, Professor Scott said. In the United States, Harvard and the more specialist Massachusetts Institute of Technology do the same.
Collaboration between Sydney’s two world top-100 institutions would attract more corporate investment, industry partnerships and a bigger slice of research funding, Professor Scott said. It would also allow the universities to share expensive facilities so there was no unnecessary duplication.
The rivalry has been “part of the cultural DNA” of Sydney’s top universities, he said. “We’ve got to really find the benefits from strong collaboration rather than simply talk about it, but when it gets difficult just retreat into our own shell.”
Professor Scott said he had already spoken to the next vice-chancellor of the University of NSW, Attila Brungs, who will finish up at the University of Technology Sydney in October and replaces the existing UNSW vice-chancellor, Ian Jacobs, in January.