An improbable marriage
Gippsland had also been courted by Deakin, who were also in the distance education market, but the deal fell through. Monash Vice-Chancellor Mal Logan and Registrar Tony Pritchard were hopeful a merger with Gippsland would not only expand Monash’s presence into the southeast of Victoria, but also open the door for the University to move into distance education. Tom Kennedy, Director of the Gippsland Institute, was cautious. But Logan was a great persuader and he seemed to understand the role of the regional community in the Institute. The Churchill campus was particularly important as the only higher education provider in the region. The merger would go slowly, with Gippsland becoming a full campus over a few years. This model suited Professor Kennedy, who remembered the rocky merger of Monash and Chisholm, and felt a gradual coming together would be best for Gippsland.
‘Distance education’ was one of the pillars of the Dawkins Revolution, and Vice-Chancellor Logan wanted Monash to be part of it. He pursued the merger with Gippsland to get into the distance education business. But just as the merger was sealed, the world of distance education changed. The days of mailed readers and weekend schools were coming to a close. Universities were now using radio and television technology to bring lectures into the nation’s living rooms.
In the early 1990s, Monash Registrar Tony Pritchard began working with Professor Robert Smith, new Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England, to establish an Open Learning Authority. The two universities enlisted the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) to create a range of televised first-year courses. The first trials received 25,000 enquiries and 2500 potential students bought course materials. Monash’s company, the Open Leaning Agency (OLA), was joined by several other Australian universities to provide access to higher education for anyone with a television.
By 1993, however, the OLA when was awarded federal government funding, the market was already moving on. Televised learning was beginning to be replaced by more flexible forms of learning based on the personal computer. Within years, open learning would move online.
Tom Kennedy began his academic career in Glasgow, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and a PhD in Chemistry. Interested in teaching, he also gained a Diploma of Education. His connection to Monash began at Chisholm Institute of Technology, where he Deputy Director in the lead-up to the Monash merger, before heading out to Churchill. He was the Director of the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education from 1984 to 1989. He led the Institute through the merger with Monash and became the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the newly created Monash University College Gippsland. He established the campus as a National Distance Education Centre (DEC). He retired after the Churchill site became a full Monash campus in 1993.
Professor Kennedy died in May 2011.