FOR SOME it was a forced marriage, for others the amalgamation between the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Institute of Higher Education was a logical match.
Both sides had passionate arguments, but the coming together of the two institutions in 1989 marked a crucial turning point in the university’s history.
The federal government had been working towards merging universities and colleges of advanced education since the early 1980s.
Its arguments were logical enough: reduce duplication in the higher education sector thereby making it accessible to more students.
It sounded good on paper, but many universities believed amalgamation would reduce the quality of education by forcing them to teach in a wider range of areas.
“There were some great economies of scale to be made but there were two different cultures both in terms of students and the staff that needed to assimilate into the new culture,” says Greg Preston, who was one of the first appointments made to the newly amalgamated University’s School of Education.
Newcastle Teachers’ College, which had occupied the eastern end of the modern Callaghan campus since the early 1970s, evolved into the Newcastle College of Advanced Education in 1975 before becoming the Hunter Institute of Higher Education for its final year.
Nowhere were the tensions between the University and Hunter Institute more apparent than the debate about the formation of the university’s new school of education.
The university already had a faculty of education but teacher training had been the Hunter Institute’s specialist domain.
“Both institutions felt they had something special they thought was going to be diluted or diminished through the amalgamation,” Mr Preston says.
“They didn’t see it as ‘our area is going to be the dominant one’, they saw it as a power struggle to maintain what they had.”
Likewise, staff from the university’s medical school who had previously only taught medical students were now teaching radiographers and nursing students.
Sport presented challenges too.
The leaders of the institutions’ sports unions faced opposition from many members who were opposed to merging.
“They [the Hunter Institute] were known as the mob over the creek,” says university alumnus Chris Tola.
“The uni’s sport’s union was very rugby dominated. There was a lot of concern that its ethos was going to be diluted when the Hunter Institute came over.”
Twenty five years on and most of the tensions concerning amalgamation have been relegated to the pages of the institutions’ history.
That is not to say the issues have been forgotten.
“Some people would argue that in some ways we have the worst of both systems, other people would argue that we have the best of both systems. I think generally it has been positive for Newcastle,” Mr Preston says.