As plans were being made for the establishment of the University of South Australia, across the other side of the world, Professor David Lloyd, then just 17 years old, was making his own big decisions about tertiary education.

Reflecting on his experiences, Prof Lloyd also looks back on the impressive, yet relatively short history of a university nearly 17,000 kilometres away from his home of Dublin, Ireland – a university which he now leads.

It’s not as if we planned it this way but, on the eve of our 25th birthday, we were ranked number 25 on the list of the world’s best young universities.

In just 25 years we have melded some of the State’s oldest educational institutions – colleges of advanced education, institutes of technology and venerable art schools – and created not only South Australia’s largest university, but one of the very best in the world.

In 1991 while the ground was being prepared for UniSA to become the university of choice for career-focused professionals, on the other side of the world I was getting ready to go to university. 

I was 17 years old and in my final year in high school in Dublin, busily preparing for my Leaving Certificate examinations. The World Wide Web was about to be created. The first Gulf War had just kicked off, nicely timed to coincide with the end of the Cold War. The USSR was actively disintegrating and the Balkans were about to get very dicey. 

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a scientist. I was pretty agnostic as to which branch of science and unfortunately the career guidance teacher in our school wasn’t particularly supportive. He called me the ‘mad scientist’. Not many kids from my school went to university. If I did okay in my examinations, I’d be the first in my family to do so.

In February, when making my university course choices, I consulted the only influencers I had available to me - my parents. The night the form was being filled in, I vividly remember the conversation. My father said ‘Trinity’s a good university, put that down.’ My mother said, ‘Don’t put that down, you’d have to get the bus. Put down Dublin City University (DCU) and you can come home for your lunch.’

On such socioeconomic whims are our futures determined. DCU, a leisurely 15 minute stroll from my home, went in as my first preference. DCU was familiar to me. It was local. It was new – the youngest of Ireland’s universities – only established with university status in 1989 from its origins as the National Institute for Higher Education. The longer established universities in Dublin dismissively referred to it as their poor cousin from the north, Ballymun Regional Technical College.  

Importantly and a key consideration for my way of thinking, it was modern, enterprising, and had a reputation for being the place you went to if you wanted to get a job. More importantly, it had great links to industry and internship was an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum. And of course no buses were involved. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward 25 years and I’m now the Vice Chancellor of a different university.

A university that:

  • celebrates its relative youth;

  • overcame a period where it was looked down upon by other institutions;

  • is committed to equity, access and participation;

  • is providing opportunity to new generations of first-in-family-learners;

  • has strong links to industry;

  • is modern and enterprising;

  • is the place you come to if you want to give yourself the best chance to get a job on graduation.

You really couldn’t make this stuff up. 

I felt at home on day one. 

We are producing students who are capable of learning as new skills, occupations and technologies emerge. We’re graduating valuable future employees who can keep up with changes in business and in industry, and maybe even bring about some of their own changes through their innovation and creativity, adding value to the business they’re in.

In our research we are focused on understanding our society and creating solutions for the problems it presents, using our interdisciplinary research strengths and partnering with industry and the community to bring about new knowledge with real-world impact. 

In our short history, UniSA has built a proud record in collaboration and solutions-focused research, to the point where we now sit as Australia’s most interdisciplinary university that is industry-engaged and forging major global partnerships with the likes of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and University College London. 

We have created more than 2000 partnerships with industry and the professions, both in Australia and internationally, and we are building on our goal to be the university that engages fully with the professions and industry globally.

In the life of any university on the global stage, 25 years goes by in the blink of an eye and, by any measure, we have been an outstanding success. Success in our game – when and where it happens – is built on the efforts of thousands, some with big visions and some who just get on and get the job done.

We’ve all come a long, long way in 25 short years and I can’t wait to see what happens next.