The Future of Higher Education and the City

The Future of Higher Education and the City

By the President and Vice-Chancellor of Monash, Professor Margaret Gardner AO
Lord Mayor's Oration, Grossi Florentino
27 August, 2015

John Reader in his book Cities has written:

'Cities are the defining artifacts of civilization. All the achievements and failings of humanity are here. Civic buildings,monuments, archives and institutions are the touchstones by which our cultural heritage is passed from one generation to the next. We shape the city, then it shapes us.  Today, almost half the global population lives in cities. By 2030, the proportion is likely to be two-thirds.' (Reader, 1).

Our cities are clearly significant in our cultural life and have fulfilled this role for centuries. This is pivotal to the way they draw people to them and provide services to their hinterlands and increasingly beyond these to the very mobile populations of our global world. Important though this is, it is not enough to sustain a vibrant and viable city. It must also have people with a long-term stake in the city,in the form of "specialized industries, small businesses, schools and neighborhoods capable of regenerating themselves" (Kotkin, 154).

And while this diversity of economic and social life is vital to ensure our cities do not become places to visit rather than to live, the city has been and should be in the future an important part of how we imagine new ways to work and live. For cities arose for a reason – compressing and unlocking the creative impulses of our populations (Kotkin, xx).

This city of ours, Melbourne,is a recent city. But if we reflect for a moment on its beginnings we see how the imagination of its early inhabitants created a wealth of new institutions that was designed to drive its future development. Of course, Melbourne's early development through a time we now call, Marvellous Melbourne, was powered by resources from its hinterlands, principally gold and agriculture.

By the mid-1850s (only a couple of decades after its foundation) Melbourne had created the Philosophical Institute and the Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science. Ferdinand Mueller is reported in 1859 in the inaugural address of the Philosophical Institute as making these comments

'Our imagination may carry us onward to a distant time when all assembled with us now shall long have ceased to exist …when a long series of discoveries, important in their bearings on Australia's prosperity, will have been first enunciated at this forum …we shall be envied for having lived in the era of Australian discoveries, for having enjoyed the opportunity of applying the sum of knowledge accumulated by lengthened experiments and by toilsome studies of the past at once to our immediate advantage ...' (The Argus, 5)

In these optimistic words we see some of the aspirations that impelled those who created the institutions of this city. And so much was built in these years: in 1853, the University of Melbourne and the State Library, the Museum of Victoria in 1854, and by 1872, a school system for Victoria that was the envy of the world – "[N]o other part of the British Empire had combined in its system of primary education the three far-reaching principles – that it should be secular, compulsory and free"(Turner, 385).

We can learn much about how we should approach our future from the optimism, courage and commitment of the founders of our city. In a new, small city at the far reaches of the Antipodes,they saw the need to build institutions to support discovery, innovation and education so that our future would be better.So if we look at our city today what can we see about the future we should aspire to and support. I am going to focus on higher education, not on those other institutions,although our schooling system, our library, our museum and our cultural and sporting institutions all have a part to play in making this a city that will improve our future.

Indeed we will not achieve the future that can be secured with higher education, if those other institutions are not in place to develop and retain the highly skilled people we need.

Innovation is key to our future health and wealth and it depends on harnessing research. The overwhelming majority of Australia's research is undertaken in its universities. And in Australia, Melbourne is home to some six universities and has major campuses of three more universities whose headquarters are located elsewhere. And those universities produce research that is rated among the world's best in a number of fields. And beyond this research there are the high quality inputs from medical research institutes and CSIRO.

In medical research, the combination of university research, medical research institutes and major research hospitals means that Melbourne has one of the pre-eminent research clusters in the world. This does and will produce significant health benefits for the future, but also produces drugs and devices that can be the foundation of new companies and new industries for the future.

Investment in research in Australia has been growing strongly over past decades. The impacts on our society and economy are not usually immediate with lags and uneven development often masking the real impact that this investment brings in improved productivity and wealth to our city and nation.

I want to outline some examples of innovations that have occurred in this city to indicate what is possible if we concentrate on supporting such innovation. Some medical innovations to illustrate our track record:

  • Lithium carbonate (for treating mood disorders) in 1948 by John Cade at Bundoora Repatriation Hospital. Receives US FDA approval in 1970, listed now as one of WHO's Essential Medicines (Shorter, 6; World Health Organisation, 40).
  • IVF (1970 to 1990s) world's first IVF pregnancy in 1973, many involved but Carl Wood and Alan Trounson most prominent, Monash University and Melbourne University (Kovacs). Monash IVF company continues to operate providing services in IVF.
  • Bionic ear first cochlear implant 1978, Graeme Clark, University of Melbourne. Cochlear Ltd provides more than 70% of cochlear implants worldwide (Mercer).
  • Colony stimulating factors (CSFs) 1977, Donald Metcalf, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute CSFs boost immune system allowing more effective use of chemotherapy in cancer patients.
  • Relenza/Zamanavir for new drug for flu 1989, Peter Colman, Jose Varghese, Monash and CSIRO.
  • Stem cell research ongoing, based in Melbourne, key to many future developments.
  • Bionic eye, two groups, Monash Vision and Bionic Vision pursuing different methods to cure blindness, ongoing.

But we could add innovations in other spheres:

  • Atomic absorption spectrophotometry, 1952 fast analysis of chemical elements, Alan Walsh, CSIRO Fisherman's Bend. By the 1970s estimated accumulated benefit to Australia was in excess of $200m (CSIRO).
  • Black box flight recorder, 1957, David Warren, Australian Aeronautical Research Laboratories (DSTO).
  • 3D printed jet engine, 2015, Xinhua Wu, Monash University, Amaero, CSIRO and Deakin University.

I do not need to labour the benefits of these innovations for people, for our economy and for the future. The strength of our research is the engine for innovation and then we must support our innovations to realization to produce benefits for the future. But without the strength of our research our capacity for innovation that will secure the major breakthroughs of the future is limited.

But higher education does not only bring the benefits of innovation and development through its research,they come through its skilled graduates and therefore through its education. For Australia's future prosperity it will need more skilled graduates and industries to transform.

Australia has been very fortunate in the quality of its higher education and its attraction, not only to domestic, but also to international students.

International education is Australia's largest service export and one of its top four exports at over $16 billion per annum in 2014 (Commonwealth of Australia). In 2014 Victoria had more than 160,000 international students from more than 160 countries (Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources, 13). Higher education, largely in universities, is some 45% of total student enrolments but around three quarters of the total value of education exports (DEDJTR, 21). In other words, international higher education is Australia's most significant service export.

It is Victoria's largest export generating some $5 billion and supporting more than 30,000 Victorian jobs (DEDJTR, 11). Victoria has some 73,600 international students in higher education – and most of these are in Melbourne (Department of Education and Training, International Student Data). Postgraduates account for almost half of international higher education students in Victoria (DET, Selected Higher Education Statistics). And higher education commencements were up by some 15% in 2014 over the previous year, and we have seen increasing demand in 2015 (DEDJTR, 24).

In Victoria the major countries of origin are China at some 28% and India at 16%, Vietnam, Malaysia and Pakistan make up the rest of the top five making up around 61% of total students (DEDJTR, 19). This makes a significant difference to the vitality of our universities, our connections with countries and organisations across the world, and is supporting economic growth in our society. Without these students our city would be smaller and less vibrant as well as our universities.

The future of higher education is intertwined with the future of our city. Without innovation we will not have the new specialized industries, the new organisations, large and small on which our livelihoods depend. With the research and innovation in our universities come unimagined possibilities that are ours to grasp but they need our support –our patient support – and our commitment.

Without the graduates from our universities, whether they were students from Australia or beyond our shores,we will not have the skills and the capacities to build and keep new organisations and industries – and our cultural institutions will be the poorer for lack of people who live here and care about them. With the students from beyond our shores we have developed capacities in education (and one would hope surrounding services and products) to compete globally. And we need to remember that university education began as a global service where people travelled to the best cities.

Just as the people who founded Melbourne could not really see what would emerge from the institutions they founded and the aspirations they had for the future, just as not every prospector found gold, nor every institution founded survived as envisaged, we cannot fully predict what will come from higher education in the future. Yet some things are clear, most of the institutions they founded have succeeded and prospered, the universities that began with one in 1853 are now many and their scale and reach and impact is much beyond anything the founders anticipated.

The future of this city is more directly engaged with higher education than anybody would have predicted only two decades ago. But the possibilities in that engagement are great and require that town and gown do not stand apart but work together for that future so that as Frederick Mueller hoped in 1859 it will 'burst forth soon everywhere in brilliant light' (The Argus, 5).

Works Cited

Australian Bureau of Statistics. International Trade in Services by Country, by State and by Detailed Services Category, Calendar Year, 2014. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. 22 June 2015. Web.

CSIRO. "Atomic absorption spectroscopy". CSIROpedia. CSIRO, 21 Feb 2011. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. <>

Defence Science and Technology Organisation. "David Warren - Inventor of the black box flight recorder". DSTO. Department of Defence. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. <>

Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources (DEDJTR). Victoria's Future Industries: International Education Discussion Paper. Melbourne: State of Victoria. 2015. Web.

Department of Education and Training. International Student Data 2012-2015. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. 2015. Web. <>

Department of Education and Training. Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2014 Student Data. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. 31 May 2015. Web. <>

Kotkin, Joel. The City: A Global History. London: Phoenix, 2005. Print.

Kovacs, Gab. "The History of IVF, a chronology". Monash IVF. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. <>

Mercer, Khia. "Hearing Implant Remains Key". Australian Financial Review. 9 Feb. 2011. Web.

"Philosophical Institute." The Argus 22 Dec. 1859: 5. Trove. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

Reader, John. Cities. New York: Grove Press, 2004. Print.

Shorter, Edward. "The History of Lithium Therapy". Bipolar Disorders. 11.S2 (2009) 4–9. Web.

World Health Organisation. Model List of Essential Medicines 19th List. April 2015 (Amended August 2015). Web. 31 Aug. 2015.