The creation of Victoria's fourth university in Geelong was the result of many years of debate, lobbying and political manoeuvring.
Early debate and socio-political context
Deakin University formed during a time of strong economic growth, when the desire for improved social conditions, decentralisation and regional development were driving forces. These factors led to proposals for a fourth Victorian university.
A post-war expansion of Victorian higher education had already produced two universities – Monash (1958) and La Trobe (1964) – to join Melbourne University. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a series of reports and investigations on the need for a fourth university – as well as lobbying and political manoeuvring – occurred. The debate reveals much about the effect of the political, social and economic environment on educational policy.
In 1964, the Martin Report on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia to the Australian Universities Commission recommended a greater number and variety of higher education institutions to address job growth in many industries.
The Victorian State Government's Ramsay Committee reported in 1972 on the need for a fourth university. It recommended purchasing a site in Melbourne’s east, and absorbing some country education facilities. This was contrary to the appetite for decentralisation among state and federal governments. Regional development of cities such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong had become a Hamer government priority. The Whitlam government, elected in December 1972, saw the creation of a fourth university as integral to its own decentralisation policy.
New thinking about the role of education
While decentralisation and regional development were pivotal in the decision to create a fourth university, new thinking about the role of education also supported it. The federal government saw education as central to its pursuit of social justice and social amenity. It anticipated the future workforce would move in and out of education and new universities should provide ‘lifelong’ education.
In 1974 a committee headed by Professor Peter Karmel reported to the Australian Universities Commission that ‘formal education should no longer be regarded as preparation for life but, at least beyond the compulsory level, it should be integral to life itself.’ The committee anticipated universities would need to prepare for increased demand both from school leavers and people at all stages of life.
The push for Geelong
While these factors were establishing the need for a fourth university, a push for Geelong as the location gathered pace. In 1957 the Geelong University Committee formed. It consisted of local educators, businessmen and civic officers, including Menzie Lipson, who later served on Deakin University Council for over 30 years. Harold Nicol, Principal of the Gordon Institute of Technology, was also a member. The Geelong University Committee became the University for Geelong Committee in 1961. It included Geelong College principal Peter Thwaites, who became an advocate and guiding presence in the formation of Deakin University and served as first Chancellor.
The committee delivered submissions to two Victorian inquiries. One recommended the creation of regional university colleges affiliated with Melbourne University. The other – the Ramsay Committee – proposed an entirely new university. Both proposals were rejected based on shifting priorities of state and federal governments.
The University for Geelong Committee promoted Geelong for its proximity to Melbourne, infrastructure such as the duplicated train line and proposed bridge infrastructure across the Yarra River (to become the Westgate Bridge).
The federal government’s Cities Commission went on to nominate Geelong as a growth centre. The Commonwealth would assist Victoria in developing the region. The timing was right, coming just after a Victorian submission for a single city regional university.
Approval for a fourth university in Geelong
In February 1974 the Federal Cabinet Welfare Committee determined that Victoria’s fourth university would be in Geelong. The Federal Minister for Education, Kim Beazley, announced the university would ‘absorb’ The Gordon and the State College of Victoria (Geelong). Following Universities Commission's recommendation, the new campus of The Gordon at Waurn Ponds would become the site of the university.
An Interim Planning Council for the university was immediately legislated for and appointed under Peter Thwaites in June 1974.
Royal Assent was granted to Deakin's establishment on 10 December 1974. This enabled the Act which established Deakin.