Professor Warren Bebbington

Welcome to my blog: I look forward to hearing from you and reading your comments about our University. I hope this becomes a great melting pot for intellectual ideas, views and debate and I welcome all of your contributions.

On Saturday, we commemorate the passing of 100 years since the ill-fated landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Their hope had been to charge across Turkey, take Constantinople and thus defeat the Ottoman Empire, ally of Germany, in the First World War. In the event, the landing was bungled, sending thousands to their death on the wrong beach and ultimately to defeat and retreat after eight months of frightful, senseless suffering.
The endurance and bravery developed amongst these young soldiers became a watchword for the self-awareness of the Australian nation, then just 14 years old.

Staff and students from every part of the University of Adelaide had volunteered for the War in these months, and for those sent to the Western Front in France even worse horrors followed. At Fromelles, a year later, Australia suffered 7,000 casualties in a single night. Revulsion at such events ensured that, while most had marched  confidently off to the War, few returned unaffected. And 78 from the University did not return at all, their names now honoured with the dead of later wars on our campus war memorials: in the Mitchell Building, the Cloisters of the Union, and in the Dining Hall at Roseworthy.

Every Australian of my age has stories of the damaging imprint of war on their own families. My father’s family, if asked about their service in the Second World War would fall mute.  In contrast my grandfather, a British Sergeant-Major in the First World War, was endlessly haunted by memories of his task—capturing deserters and bringing them back to the trenches to be shot before their own men. He never recovered from his experience, and died a chronic alcoholic.

We all grew up with Anzac Day. In my youth, the days of the Vietnam War, it was a controversial event: songs like that of Eric Bogle’s, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, used an allegory of the First World War to capture for us the ultimate stupidity of a new war in which few of us could believe. But how do we respond now to the armed conflicts across the world, in Afghanistan, Boko-Haram, Syria or the Ukraine? It is true that Albert Einstein once wrote, “we must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war”. Yet this week few would have read with anything other than trepidation the news of our dispatching Australian troops to Iraq.

These days a younger generation attends Anzac Day, wearing the medals of their parents and grandparents, and accepting more easily than my peers did that, whatever the circumstances, honouring those who gave their lives in our nation’s wars is perhaps the least they can do. As I attend solemn ceremonies over the coming days, at North Terrace, on our cricket oval in North Adelaide, and at Roseworthy, I will be thinking of those young Adelaide staff and students whose academic promise was so cruelly taken from us. Their deaths are nowhere better captured than in Anthem for Doomed Youth, the lonely, despairing poem by Wilfred Owen, the finest of the First World War poets, himself killed in that war’s final weeks:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


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Today, I was pleased to welcome the Minister for Education to the University’s student accommodation facility, The Village, for the launch of the Federal Government’s draft National Strategy for International Education.

This document is timely and compelling, and offers new ways to improve Australia’s capacity to attract and support the nation’s 4th largest export industry. It also explores measures to address some of the irritants that impact overseas students such as transport, accommodation and health services issues.

It was particularly good to hear from two of our current students this morning who spoke well of their own learning experience at Adelaide and living in South Australia.

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Last night the Senate rejected Minister Pyne’s amended higher education reform package. Deregulation of fees, even without the proposed 20% funding cut, did not pass.

Students will thus not be asked to pay more. But neither will the taxpayer: those who struck down the reforms have offered no alternatives from the public purse to help close our widening funding gap.

Group of Eight universities like ours are the hardest hit by the current funding arrangements. The courses most drastically underfunded–medicine, dentistry, and vet science for example–are concentrated in the Go8. The courses most difficult to make commercially viable–those that address our artistic and cultural heritage for example–survive chiefly within the Go8. And the lion’s share of the nation’s research, much of it desperately under-resourced, also resides in the Go8.

For the sector as a whole, a larger problem remains. With uncapped enrolment costs accelerating beyond available funds, the Australian university system is in danger of entering a fiscal famine: the slow starvation of a sector that generates the nation’s third largest export.

For the University of Adelaide, we remain committed to a vision of small group teaching and excellent, better-resourced research, while recognising this vision will now take longer to realise.

But we cannot be content with where things now stand.

Both major political parties now intend to make higher education funding a major issue at the next Federal Election. As that election approaches, I will work with both sides of politics, through the Group of Eight and as Deputy Chair of Universities Australia, to see that real, long-term, sector-wide reform ultimately prevails.




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Annual Memorial and Dedication Service for the Body Donor Program Wednesday 4 March 2015 CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY On behalf of the three universities in South Australia, the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of South Australia – I welcome you to this special annual memorial and dedication service, now in its 18th year. [...]

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It was wonderful to welcome delegates from Latin America for a symposium at the University of Adelaide and co- hosted with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet together with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Council on Australia Latin America Relations. –wb  

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I welcome the Premier Weatherill’s bold vision and agenda announced in the Governor’s speech today at the opening of State Parliament. Our academics will look forward to contributing their expertise to such initiatives as the creation of an Adelaide Green Zone, the review of discrimination through our SA Law Reform Institute, and the Royal Commission [...]

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VALE: Sir David Watson Principal of Green Templeton College and Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford I was saddened to learn that Sir David Watson, one of the world’s most distinguished experts on higher education, passed away after a short illness on Monday. Sir David visited the University of Adelaide only last [...]

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We congratulate Chancellor Kevin Scarce on his appointment as Royal Commissioner investigating opportunities for nuclear storage, uranium enrichment and power creation. As the State’s leading research-intensive university, with international expertise in mining, alternative energy and environmental issues, we are very well-placed to support this Royal Commission. We also recognise there will be very divergent views, [...]

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Last month I was pleased to launch a book honouring the vision of our first vice-chancellor:  Augustus Short and the Founding of the University of Adelaide, which was commissioned by the University from Short’s biographer Michael Whiting. Much has been written about this extraordinary man’s role establishing St Peters College, the St Peter’s Cathedral, and [...]

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Today it was announced that the University of Adelaide has been awarded the State Government’s contract to provide its public dental service for the next 30 years. A partnership agreement will see a new 90-chair SA Dental Service clinic constructed as part of the University’s medical and nursing schools building in the SA Health and [...]

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