It was 1981 and higher education was changing. Twenty years after its first student intake Monash University found itself facing a major decision. Both state and federal higher education policy changes were targeting Colleges of Advanced Education (CAEs) and teachers colleges. It was felt there were too many of both. And, once again, a desire to focus on science and technology had resurfaced. As a result, CAEs and teachers colleges were encouraged to merge together or with universities. Universities were also leaned on to amalgamate with nearby teachers colleges that were being forced to close. Should Monash expand by amalgamating with one of the teachers colleges, or should it stay as it was? Monash chose to hold its ground – this time. But it was not long before it was faced with another, similar decision.
Skip forward seven years to 1988. Higher education was again changing, and fast. What was known as the binary system of tertiary education was about to become a thing of the past. The binary system, which was established around the time Monash University was created, divided the tertiary sector broadly into two basic types of institutions: technical, vocationally-focused CAEs and institutes of technology, and the more traditional academically focussed universities. Students wishing to further their education could choose the type or style of education that suited them or helped them follow a particular career path.
According to John Dawkins, the Federal Minister for Employment, Education and Training, the binary system was inefficient. There were too many committees, too many governing councils, too much overlap between courses and, most significantly, there was too much of a drain on federal resources. In 1988 a new Unified National System (UNS) was announced. It would replace the binary system that funded institutions based on whether they were a technical college or university, with one that provided funding based on the educational profile of each institution. In short, the technical colleges and CAEs would have to go. Merging with an existing university or amalgamating with another CAE was the only way smaller institutions could survive.
Soon after the Dawkins reforms were announced, the Victorian Post-Secondary Education Commission released its response, entitled ‘Options for the development of higher education structures in Victoria’. It confirmed the general feeling that large-scale mergers and amalgamations were inevitable by outlining specific strategic partnerships that could occur between institutions – it advised amalgamations and mergers. Monash’s then new Vice-Chancellor Mal Logan enthusiastically embraced the report. Various talks began.
The process started slowly. On 24 January 1989, the Monash University Council and the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education Council reached an agreement that Gippsland would become affiliated with Monash as a college of the University. At a Faculty of Engineering meeting in April that year, then Dean of the Faculty, Professor Peter Darvall explained that Gippsland would become a constituent college of Monash University. Government funding for the college would be received through Monash, and Gippsland would become a distance education centre. He explained Gippsland would retain its staff and the Council of Monash and the Council of Gippsland would remain independent from each other.
Several months later, on 11 May 1989, an agreement was signed between Monash University and Chisholm Institute of Technology. The two institutions would merge. Chisholm, which had campuses at Caulfield and Peninsula as a result of the mergers of the early 1980s, would become part of Monash University. Its campuses would become outposts of Monash. After the merger, Monash would have three campuses, Clayton, Caulfield and Peninsula. Four, if Gippsland was included.
The merger between Chisholm and Monash was different from the merger between Gippsland and Monash in that the Councils of Chisholm and Monash did not act separately as the Councils of Gippsland and Monash did. It was specified clearly that the merger between Monash and Chisholm would not result in any forced redundancies and that negotiations would take place between both institutions with regards to staff. It was also specified that either institution could at any time within six months of signing the agreement terminate it with written notice to both Councils. But neither did and plans for the merger went ahead.
In 1991, after almost two years of affiliation with Monash, Gippsland College formally merged with the University. In the space of three years Monash University had expanded to cover four campuses. This was a reality that had a major impact on the Faculty of Engineering. Almost overnight, the Faculty had three different undergraduate engineering courses, with differing styles and content to coordinate and maintain, as well as a massive increase in staff and student numbers. A section of the annual report from the Dean of Engineering in 1990 relating to the activities of the Department of Civil Engineering, one of the five departments of the Faculty, reflects the major problems facing the Faculty post-merger. The report noted that:
several non-academic matters significantly affected the department in 1990. Chief among these was the Chisholm-Monash amalgamation, which produced a two-part, two-campus, two-course department. Much effort is going into developing arrangements that will extract some net benefit from this amalgamation.