Release type: Speech


Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, University of Sydney


The Hon Jason Clare MP
Minister for Education

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Gadigal people, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

I also acknowledge:

  • Vice Chancellor Mark Scott AO
  • Paul Howarth, CEO of Times Higher Education
  • Presidents, Chancellors, Delegates

Welcome to the oldest university in Australia.

We’re surrounded here by its first buildings. A gothic quadrangle, modelled on the ancient quadrangles of Oxford and Cambridge.

Built in the 1850s.

Before that, this was a farm, full of cows and convicts.

I know many of you come from universities that make this place seem almost brand new.

LMU in Munich dates back to 1472, the University of Glasgow goes back even further to 1451.

Ancient universities.

Universities that were built before the steam engine, before the enlightenment, before the printing press that Luther used to circulate the 95 theses he nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

But I want you to know that as ancient as those universities are, where we are gathered today is the home of a people more ancient than that.

A people who have walked this land for more than 60,000 years. The oldest, continuous living culture on earth.

And modern Australia is the beneficiary of that ancient wisdom.

In a few weeks’ time, Australians will vote and decide if we should recognise these first Australians in our founding document.

The Australian Constitution.

And I so hope we do.

It is a chance to recognise our past and do something about our future.

You are gathered here on this sacred ground with a similar purpose. 

John Curtin, perhaps Australia's greatest Prime Minister, once said:

“The great university should find its heroes in the present, its hope in the future, it should look ever forward. For it the past should be but a preparation for the greater days to be.”

That's what great universities, at their core, are.

They are not just about the past.  They are about the future.

They don’t just focus on today’s problems. They try to anticipate and solve the ones that lie ahead.

They're not just about rankings. They're about students.

And they are not a place of privilege.  They are a place of opportunity.

John Curtin also thought that universities have to have a soul.

That they should be:

“a friend of the reformer, the host ever willing to receive the initiator, the champion always ready to defend the poor and the obscure”.

In the work you do, at this Summit, in the days ahead, let that be your guide.

The buildings that surround us, here and where you come from, forged by our ancestors, can sometimes cause us to believe that this place is special.

But that’s not exactly true.

What is truly special, is what lies within.