TWO of Australia's biggest universities have formed a strategic alliance that has startled the higher education world and will be closely watched, and possibly copied, elsewhere.
Melbourne and Monash universities have signed a deal to work in tandem after competing for top academics and students for the past 40 years. Together they enrol more than 75,000 students, employ in excess of 5,000 academics, and have a combined operating revenue of more than Aus$1 billion (Pounds 400,000 million).
Melbourne vice chancellor Alan Gilbert and Monash's David Robinson have agreed to market their universities and the city of Melbourne internationally, to share staff, library services and resources, to set up joint planning arrangements, and to make joint appointments in high-cost areas.
Professor Gilbert said a key reason for establishing the alliance was the competitive and complex global higher education environment. He said it would help counter the threat to the future of world-class higher education in Australia posed by increased international competition.
"What we are trying to do is create the city of Melbourne as a major education capital. For that reason attracting top quality students and staff will further our strategic interests," Professor Gilbert said.
The two vice chancellors intend to map out an agenda for cooperation, focusing on the development of information technology strategies, particularly in relation to infrastructure, acquisitions, standards and teaching applications.
Professor Robinson said the alliance was a recognition of the extent of collaboration already taking place between Melbourne and Monash academics.
"We want to strengthen that, to make it more explicit, to look for new ways of working together, both in terms of programs, infrastructure, and the presentation of ourselves internationally," he said.
The fact that Melbourne was a member of Universitas 21, a network of international universities initiated by Professor Gilbert last year, would not affect the deal, Professor Robinson said.
He said Melbourne was concerned with establishing a strong network of relationships with top-class institutions around the world and that Monash could benefit from connecting with some of those. But joining Universitas 21 was not an immediate priority.
"We want to establish a strong Monash presence in several other countries over coming years, in particular in Malaysia, Indonesia and South Africa, and Melbourne will be able to benefit from that strong presence so that each of us can take advantage of the strategies of the other."
On the competition for overseas students, Professor Robinson said universities could spend far too much time "looking over their shoulders wondering what others were doing.
"We should be working together to raise the profile of the entire higher education sector as a top-class system and present ourselves in that way."