AUSTRALIA's second oldest university, Melbourne, has broken new ground by establishing a private offshoot, which it hopes will generate enough income for it to join the world's top-rank institutions.
In establishing Melbourne University Private Ltd, the University of Melbourne is the first in Australia to create a commercially oriented twin institution whose principal objective is profit. It thinks the move will be followed by other public universities.
Although Australia has two other private universities - Bond and Notre Dame - and most public universities operate commercial companies to market their wares, Melbourne's planned Aus$250 million (Pounds 92 million) private partner is unique. It is the first in which a state government has officially approved the establishment of a private university as an offshoot of a public institution. This allows the company that has been set up to operate the institution to call it a university.
The premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, launched the project last week but his address to assembled dignitaries was disrupted by student protesters who said they were opposed to the further privatisation of higher education.
They argue that the private university will draw resources and students away from the public institution. Vice-chancellor Alan Gilbert, however, has consistently claimed that Melbourne is massively underfunded compared with similar universities in Britain and the United States.
Chief executive of MUPL, Barry Sheehan, also rejected the students' claims. "We will not be targeting fee-paying local or international students," Professor Sheehan said. "The people we will be targeting will be senior executives and managers in business, industry, government and the corporate sector who wish to extend their skills and awareness of leading edge developments."