Honi understands the University of Sydney is edging closer to a decision about a second large multidisciplinary campus at Westmead in Western Sydney.
“In the near term, the Westmead super precinct is the future location for the University’s major presence, building upon the existing medicine and dentistry faculties… in the area”, the University writes in a submission to the Greater Sydney Commission.
Citing a report by the consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the University claims Westmead could accommodate “an increase to 50,000 students from all disciplines, with full university service offerings on site.”
There are currently just over 60,000 students studying at USyd in total.
The University has already committed to increasing the number of students at Westmead from just over 1,000 to 10,000 over the next decade. These students are almost exclusively studying health-related disciplines including medicine, dentistry and biomechanical engineering in facilities clustered around Westmead Hospital.
There also appear to be further plans for other undergraduate students to be located at Westmead. A report by the economic consultancy Deloitte lists the University’s investment in Westmead as including “a new School for undergraduate science and engineering students.”
In a letter to Lucy Turnbull, chair of the Greater Sydney Commission, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence writes “Our current plan is to grow student enrolments at Westmead to 6,000 – 10,000 students. With better transport linkages and lands available to support education zonings, we would be able to expand this number even further.”
The University has not always had a positive experience with its satellite campuses. Last year, USyd moved to shut down the Callan Park campus occupied by the Sydney College of the Arts, leading to an ongoing series of protests.
This semester, it closed the permanent student support counters at the Cumberland health sciences campus and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Nonetheless, the University insists that it is well placed to provide tertiary education and research in Western Sydney.
“The University’s contribution to this [Westmead] partnership is not being met by any other University. The University has more than 10,000 students from Western Sydney and has been engaged in the region longer than any other University”, a University spokesperson told Honi.
By contrast, Western Sydney University (WSU) has over 40,000 students enrolled, most of whom hail from the West. WSU is also a member of the Westmead Alliance, a consortium of health institutions committed to developing the Westmead area, where it already has a campus.
As well as providing a hub for medical research, transport is one of the prime advantages of the Westmead site. It is served by a regular rail station on the Blue Mountains line, which will be joined by a new light rail stop as part of the NSW Government’s Parramatta light rail project. The array of public transport options soon to be available at Westmead is in sharp contrast with the University’s ongoing failure to convince the state government to provide a dedicated rail station for Camperdown campus.
Despite USyd’s apparent eagerness to establish a new campus at Westmead, a University spokesperson declined to tell Honi when a final decision would be made.
“Any decision the University makes as a result of these deliberations will be made with regard to our commitment to provide world class teaching and research as well as to serve the community”, said the spokesperson.
In addition to its high-minded concerns, another consideration underpinning the University’s decision is funding. While the University has committed to a target investment of $500 million in Westmead over the next decade, establishing a new full-size campus would be far more expensive.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report suggests that a new multidisciplinary campus at Westmead would cost approximately $3.6 billion over fifty years to establish.
Raising that amount of money is within the University’s means. In addition to its regular sources of revenue, the University owns several large farms at Badgery’s Creek and Bringelly, on the far western fringe of Sydney that are set to skyrocket in value when Sydney’s second airport opens in the area.
The University has applied for the farms to be re-zoned for commercial use, making the land available for the University to rent or sell to hotels, logistics providers or companies hoping to service the new airport.
Chancellor Belinda Hutchison believes the farms will “provide significant investment capital for the University to continue funding the growth and development of education and research at our Westmead and Camden campuses.”
Whether that commercial decision will impact on the University’s research work is unclear. A site run by USyd’s Investment and Capital Management division states that the Badgery’s Creek farms are of “limited use” while the School of Life and Environmental Sciences describes them as being “essential to supporting the present core teaching and research activities of the Faculties of Veterinary Science and Faculty of Agriculture and Environment”.
According to the School site, the farms contribute to research on areas from climate change to urbanization.
If students are still permitted onto the farm sites once they have been sold or leased, they may have an opportunity to research urbanisation in a more immediate way than the faculties ever initially planned.