The Founding and Establishment of The University of Notre Dame Australia

The Foundation Years (1986-2008)

The idea of establishing a Catholic University in Perth emerged in the second half of the 1980s. Its initial stimulus was the realisation by the Church and Catholic Education authorities in Western Australia that there were inadequate means of providing large scale special training for the substantial numbers of lay people who would be needed for future service in the State's extensive Catholic school system. Unlike other States and Territories, Western Australia had no Commonwealth funded Catholic Teachers College, and no realistic prospect of gaining public funding for such a venture. There was also concern in some quarters that the large Catholic hospital system in the State no longer had a formal means of preparing lay professional staff (especially nurses) for the special mission of Catholic health care into the future.

The newly appointed Director of Catholic Education in Western Australia, Dr Peter Tannock, discussed the problem and the challenge on several occasions in 1985 and 1986 with the Archbishop of Perth, William Foley, and was encouraged by him to pursue the idea of developing a privately funded Catholic tertiary education institution in Perth. It was agreed that Dr Tannock would approach Mr Denis Horgan, a prominent and wealthy Catholic businessman and entrepreneur in Perth, and Chairman of the Barrack House Group of Companies, to seek his support and financial assistance. Mr Horgan agreed to be involved and to provide financial support for the project, should it prove to be viable. A Planning Committee was established in 1987 comprising Mr Horgan (chairman), Dr Peter Tannock, Dr Michael Quinlan (a leader in the medical profession and Catholic health care in WA) and Archbishop Foley. An early decision was made that, should the project proceed, the aim would be to establish a Catholic university rather than a Catholic Teachers College or a Catholic College of Advanced Education.

In 1987 a Planning Office was established, initially at the Catholic Education Centre in Leederville, Perth, to be overseen by Father John Neill OP from South Australia, who had a long-standing interest in and commitment to the idea of a Catholic university in Australia modelled on the University of Notre Dame in the United States. Various models were developed and papers written, (principally by Dr Tannock and Father Neill). A formal feasibility study was commissioned to be undertaken by Professor Geoff Kiel from the University of Queensland, who was seconded from that institution for a period to assist with the planning. Exploration and consultation visits were made by members of the Planning Committee to Catholic universities and other relevant institutions in the US, the UK and Europe. Of particular significance were the meetings with the leaders of the University of Notre Dame in the United States (NDUS), widely regarded as the best and most prestigious of its kind. The Planning Committee was urged to approach NDUS for support by Father Ted Hesburgh CSC and Father Ned Joyce CSC, recently retired long-serving leaders of NDUS. They had visited Fremantle in February, 1988 as tourists, and, at the invitation of Denis Horgan, met with the Planning Committee to discuss the idea of this proposed first Australian Catholic university and for the possible involvement of NDUS in some way. It was a major piece of good fortune that NDUS, led by its outstanding new President, Father Edward Malloy CSC, supported by his Executive Vice President, Father E W Beauchamp CSC, and his Provost, Professor Tim O'Meara, agreed subsequently to consider becoming involved in supporting this new initiative in Catholic higher education in distant Western Australia. Indeed, the early NDUS commitment and involvement was perhaps the most important single factor enabling this ambitious project to proceed beyond the tentative feasibility study stage. It was the NDUS leadership presence and encouragement that gave the Archdiocese of Perth, and the State Government, confidence that the project could succeed.

Following visits to Perth in 1988 and 1989 from the leaders of NDUS, and with their endorsement and that of the State Government of Western Australia, a formal decision was taken in 1989 to proceed with the project and to seek the enactment of the necessary legislation in the Parliament of Western Australia. Whilst there was enthusiasm for the idea of a privately funded Catholic university in Perth, there were also many critics and doubters. Was this too ambitious for Perth? Apart from Mr Horgan's prospective personal financial support, where would the additional money, the necessary start-up capital, come from? Where would the staff be found? Who would lead it? How would it compete in the well established and already crowded 'free' and publicly funded higher education market place in Western Australia? Could a Catholic university be established and thrive in small remote Perth without government support?

It was decided (with NDUS endorsement) that the new Catholic university would be named The University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA) after its namesake and founding 'partner' in the United States. It would be based in the West End of Fremantle, mainly in unused and derelict former warehouse buildings which had been or would be acquired and developed for this purpose. Other metropolitan area and country sites were considered by the Planning Committee, but Fremantle was seen to be the most attractive prospect.

It was initially intended that this new university be a privately funded venture, financially independent of Church and State. It was to rely on tuition fees, benefactors, and various forms of corporate and individual support. The State Government promised a substantial founding land endowment in the northern outskirts of Perth. This never eventuated. The Commonwealth Government declined to provide any initial support. The Archdiocese of Perth made it clear that it could not and would not provide any capital for the project, although it did agree to make available short-term loan funds, in the form (with Mr Horgan) of a jointly guaranteed overdraft, to meet the substantial early administration and feasibility study costs. NDUS made it clear that, while it would provide comprehensive and on-going advice, secondment of key staff, and would participate in the governance structure, it was not able nor willing to provide direct financial support.

UNDA's principal initial private benefactor was to be Mr Denis Horgan. His personal contributions would be supplemented by fund-raising from a range of other potential private benefactors. To commence the project, Mr Horgan, using funds borrowed by him from the Sisters of St John of God and the R & I Bank, began acquiring properties in Fremantle with a view to on-selling (at cost) or leasing many of them to the University, as required.

Early Crisis (1990/1991)
The University of Notre Dame Australia was formally established by a unanimously endorsed Act of the Parliament of Western Australia on 21 December 1989. It was thus, legally, Australia's first Catholic university. It was given a Canonical Statute by the Archdiocese of Perth on 2 July 1991.

In mid-1990, shortly after the proclamation of the enabling legislation, and with the first Board of Governors, the first Chancellor, Mr Denis Horgan, and first Vice Chancellor, Professor David Link (he was Dean of Law at NDUS, seconded to UNDA for 18 months) barely in place, the infant University almost expired. Mr Horgan's private financial base, the Barrack House Group of Companies, became insolvent. Its insolvency led to the disposal by Mr Horgan's creditors of his assets, including the properties in Fremantle he had acquired to facilitate the new University. The insolvency also led to the cancellation of Mr Horgan's share of the joint overdraft loan guarantee, and the consequential direct assumption by the Archdiocese of all of the administrative costs and substantial debts the University had run up during its early stages of planning and administration.

In the face of this financial and 'public relations' disaster, the Archdiocese of Perth (led by the Bishop Administrator, Bishop Robert Healy, following the untimely death of Archbishop Foley, and then Archbishop Foley's successor, the newly appointed Archbishop, Barry Hickey), with the support and endorsement of the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia, the Sisters of St John of God, the University of Notre Dame in the United States, and the Board of Governors of UNDA (led by its second Chancellor, Mr Terry O'Connor who succeeded Denis Horgan following his resignation in 1990) made the decision to 'soldier on' with the project. The Archdiocese concluded that the idea was so worthy and the long-term prospects, with the backing of NDUS, were sufficiently positive to warrant continuation, notwithstanding the risks and burdens, and the already unexpected substantial financial outlays by the Church.

Additional funds for start up operations were made available by the Archdiocese of Perth, and land and buildings were purchased by the University in Mouat Street, Fremantle, from Mr Horgan's creditors. Loan funds to support these property purchases came from the Archdiocese of Perth. Staff were engaged, and work began on the development and refurbishment of the University's first major building (designated as ND1) with loan funds provided to the University by the Catholic Education Commission. This first building was financed by the Catholic Education Commission because it was to house the University's first College, the College of Education, dedicated to the long-term service of the Catholic school system in Western Australia. A major fundraising program was undertaken, focusing on the Catholic parishes, religious orders, lay members of the Western Australian Catholic community, business leaders, and various private benefactors who believed in the project. The National Australia Bank agreed to provide long-term overdraft facilities to support the recurrent operations of the new University.

1992-2000: Establishment of the Institution
In February 1992 the University enrolled its first students – about 70 in teacher education, all of them postgraduate in its College of Education. In August 1992 NDUS sent its first group of twenty-five Study Abroad students (who spent one semester in Fremantle), a significant vote of confidence by its President, Father Malloy CSC, in the future of UNDA. In December 1992, at the request of Archbishop Hickey, the University's second Vice Chancellor, Dr Peter Tannock, took over from Professor Link, who returned to NDUS. Dr Tannock commenced duties on the Fremantle Campus, having resigned as Deputy Chancellor of the University, and as Director of Catholic Education in Western Australia to take up the position.

It was, to say the least, a precarious time for the new University. The next eight years, the key foundation period, were an immense struggle for UNDA to gain support from the Western Australian community, to survive financially, to gain recognition and support from State and Commonwealth governments, to grow academically, physically and culturally, to define itself, to achieve accreditation and professional and peer recognition, to achieve balance, harmony and community acceptance, and to set in place an academic and management structure which would support it for the long term. There were many challenges and milestones in this crucial establishment period. These included:

  • The establishment of various foundation Colleges and Schools: Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Law, Nursing and Philosophy & Theology, and the introduction of undergraduate studies, commencing in 1994;
  • The development of the NDUS relationship at governance and academic levels, and its accompanying Study Abroad program; leading contributors from NDUS included Father Malloy CSC, Father Beauchamp CSC, Father Poorman CSC, Father Miscamble CSC, Father Scully CSC, the Provost, Professor Tim O'Meara, the Dean of Law, Professor David Link, and the outstanding NDUS Dean of Business, Professor Carolyn Woo;
  • The foundation of its Broome Campus in 1994 (at the invitation of Bishop John Jobst, Bishop of Broome) under the leadership of its exceptional first Director, Sister Pat Rhatigan SJG, with its focus on the advancement of the Aboriginal people of the region and reconciliation between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Australians; the Broome Campus rapidly became noted for its specialist courses in Vocational Education and Training, and in Teacher Education and Nursing;
  • The growth, development and diversification of the Fremantle Campus, and the establishment, under its extraordinary architect, Marcus Collins, its interior decorator, Angela Chaney, and its outstanding builder, Bill Fairweather, of a beautiful, consistent and lasting approach to the upgrading and refurbishment of the historic buildings in the West End of the city;
  • The signing of a 'town and gown concordat' with the City of Fremantle defining the University's role and presence, and resolving its difficult and tense early relationships with the Council and its officers;
  • The establishment of specialist philosophy and theology courses, under the leadership of the Dean, Professor Michael Jackson, and then Father Brian Boyle MSC, which subsequently underpinned the decision of Archbishop Hickey to found two new Seminaries in Perth;
  • The development of the University's undergraduate Core Curriculum (compulsory units in Theology, Ethics and Philosophy for all undergraduate courses) as the centrepiece of its 'education in Catholic values and culture' strategy; a key leader in the development of this vital core curriculum was Monsignor Kevin Long;
  • The establishment of a unique, high quality Catholic Law School under the outstanding leadership of the Dean, Professor Greg Craven, Mary McComish, Celia Hammond and Justice Neville Owen; this benchmark Law School was very influential in confirming the growing reputation of the University for academic and professional training excellence;
  • The decisions of Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments, and the Commonwealth and State Parliaments, to give UNDA access to public funding through the Commonwealth's Higher Education Funding Act and the State's Low Interest Loans Scheme. In achieving these favourable political decisions, the University received strong endorsement from across the political spectrum. Political leaders who went out of their way to support the infant and struggling University at the State level included Peter Dowding, David Parker, Ian Taylor and Geoff Gallop (Labor); and Barry MacKinnon, Richard Court, Norman Moore and Colin Barnett (Liberal); and at the Federal level Kim Beazley and Stephen Smith (Labor); and John Howard, David Kemp and Brendan Nelson (Liberal); very important too was the encouragement and counsel of senior Commonwealth public servants, especially Michael Gallagher and Tony Nutt;
  • The introduction of a unique individual contract employment system for academic and general staff, with the agreement of the National Tertiary Education Union and the endorsement of the Industrial Relations Commission;
  • The acceptance into membership and active participation in the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) and the Association of East and South East Asian Catholic Colleges and Universities(ASEACCU) and the subsequent highly successful hosting of both these large bodies at major conferences in Fremantle; these helped to develop and consolidate UNDA's international standing and relationships especially in the Catholic higher education community;
  • The expansion of the UNDA Study Abroad Program among various Catholic universities in the US, especially the Holy Cross universities of Notre Dame and Portland;
  • The steep rise to viable levels in the University's domestic and international enrolments;
  • The recruitment and retention of a core of outstanding academic and administrative staff who worked tirelessly and creatively to bring the new university into being; of special significance were the Foundation Deans, and five exceptional administrators: Des O'Sullivan, Peter Dallimore, Celia Hammond, Karen McLean and Pat Rhatigan;
  • The leadership and enthusiastic participation in the dream of the University by a deeply committed and generous Board of Governors, led for fifteen years by Mr Terry O'Connor as Chancellor.

Financial Milestones
Of critical importance during this initial foundation and early establishment phase was the achievement, in 2000, of the University's first modest budget surplus. After nearly a decade of deficit funding, and being 'carried' by the Church and by the National Australia Bank, UNDA was finally operating 'in the black'! There were many factors that contributed to this achievement. They included:

  • The growth in the University's public profile and the recognition of its legitimacy by all sectors of the WA community;
  • Sharp enrolment growth and the consequent growth in recurrent income from tuition fees;
  • The generous 'write off' or restructuring of large original capital debts by the Archdiocese of Perth, the Catholic Education Commission of WA and the Sisters of St John of God;
  • The decision of the Commonwealth Government, approved by all the major political parties in the Commonwealth Parliament, to give Notre Dame's students access to Commonwealth-funded places for the Broome Campus, which then extended to teaching and nursing on the Fremantle Campus, and to Notre Dame students having full access to the Commonwealth Postgraduate Education Loans Scheme;
  • The decision of the Western Australian State Government, approved by all the major political parties in the WA Parliament, to give the University access to State low interest loans for approved capital works;
  • The willingness of the senior administration, supported by the Board of Governors, to make painful but necessary decisions about the early rationalisation of redundant staff positions and the wind up of unsuccessful courses in order to meet budget imperatives;
  • Much improved marketing of the University and its courses (especially under the leadership of Rommie Masarei and Elizabeth Beal), and widespread acceptance of the worth of a UNDA degree among secondary school students from WA Catholic, Independent and Government schools;
  • Donations from many benefactors drawn from across the Western Australian community; these included many small and very large contributions from the Catholic and wider business community, and key Foundation donations from the family of Bernie and Mary Prindiville, the Galvin family, Bevis Smith, Michael Wright, the Wesfarmers Company, and the Sisters of St John of God;
  • Much improved financial management, especially under the oversight of Peter Gravestock;
  • The patience and on-going support of the National Australia Bank;
  • More efficient use of the University's resources and facilities, especially under the leadership and management of Terry Craig;
  • The gaining of access to sources of capital loans from the Church, particularly from the Archdiocesan Development Fund in Brisbane, thereby enabling the University to be free of bank finance.

2001-2008: Notre Dame Evolves
During this period, the goals, strategic plans and the structure and academic profile of Notre Dame as a whole were further developed and refined. The University became a major physical presence in Fremantle in a manner that gained public admiration for the quality and uniqueness of its historic buildings and their sensitive restoration and decoration.

Perhaps the most significant academic initiatives in this period were the decisions to establish a Medical School and a School of Health Sciences (including Nursing) in Fremantle, and a new fully fledged Campus in Sydney.

In 2004 the University, having received approval from the Commonwealth Government and with the strong endorsement of the Western Australian State Government, achieved accreditation from the Australian Medical Council to open a Medical School on the Fremantle Campus in 2005. This was to be the second Medical School in Western Australia and the first in Australia at a private university. It was strongly supported by the WA medical profession. The approval to proceed owed much to the personal support of the Prime Minister, John Howard. The first intake of 81 graduate entry medical students began in 2005. The Howard Government supported this new Medical School with funded Medical places, and a capital grant for facilities. The State Government provided a low interest capital loan to help develop the beautiful and historic building (owned by the City of Fremantle) designated to house the Medical School in Henry Street, Fremantle. Curtin University, under the leadership of Professor Lance Twomey, was especially helpful, providing (under contract) pre-clinical biological science courses. This new Medical School rapidly gained a reputation for the quality of its curriculum and that of its students and staff.

A parallel initiative of great significance for the University was the decision to open a School of Health Sciences on the Fremantle Campus with courses in Nursing, Physiotherapy and Health and Physical Education. This led to the establishment of specialist Schools in each of these vital areas. These courses, too, were increasingly supported by Commonwealth-funded places, and strongly endorsed by the various health professions involved. Outstanding leaders from the health professions who drove these new developments included Michael Quinlan, Mark McKenna, Adrian Bower and Jenny McConnell (Medicine), Doreen McCarthy (Nursing), John Bloomfield and Helen Parker (Health Sciences) and Brian Edwards, Elizabeth Henley and Peter Hamer (Physiotherapy).

This period also saw major changes to the governance structure at Notre Dame, reflecting substantial revisions to the University's Act of Parliament. This revised Act, unanimously approved by both sides and both houses of the WA Parliament, gave the University a powerful legal base to plan for its future. The revised Act redefined the University's Objects, and its structure. The revised Act stated that the Objects of The University of Notre Dame Australia are:

The provision of university education within
a context of Catholic faith and values; and

The provision of an excellent standard of
i) teaching, scholarship and research;
ii) training for the professions; and
iii) pastoral care for its students.

Much credit for the form and substance of this new Act rested with the University's Deputy Vice Chancellor and principal legal adviser, Celia Hammond, and its Board member Mr Justice Neville Owen. The University now had separate but related Boards of Trustees, Directors and Governors, each chaired by the new Chancellor of the University, Justice Owen, who assumed office from Mr Terry O'Connor in 2005. These legislative changes were accompanied by substantial changes to the University's Statutes and Regulations.

The physical facilities on the Fremantle and Broome Campuses were upgraded and expanded, to the point where they could cater for over 6,000 students.

This period saw a very significant development in Notre Dame's relationship with the Commonwealth Government. The Howard Government, on advice of the Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, decided to declare the academic areas of teaching, nursing and medicine at Notre Dame as National Priorities, and as such, eligible for substantial Federal funding. The Howard Government also introduced a scheme known as Fee Help whereby fee paying undergraduate students at Notre Dame could finance their tuition costs with low interest 'income contingent' loans from the Commonwealth.

When the Rudd Labor Government was elected to office in 2007 it maintained and, indeed, enhanced the support of its predecessor. It committed itself to a 'compact' with Notre Dame whereby the University would specialise and grow in the Health and Education fields. This initiative, designed by its Education spokesman, Mr Stephen Smith, was of far-reaching significance for Notre Dame and its future. The result of this enhanced relationship with the Rudd Government was reflected in substantial allocations in the 2008/2009 Federal Budget of Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP's) and capital grants for related facilities, serving the National Priority areas of teaching, nursing and medicine. Commonwealth-funded capital works were undertaken on the University's Fremantle, Sydney and Broome Campuses.

The Foundation of the Sydney Campus (2004)
Another major development in this period was the result of an invitation to Notre Dame in 2003 from His Eminence, George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, to open a Campus in Sydney, NSW. A feasibility study was undertaken by Professor Geoffrey Kiel and, at the end of 2004, after intensive discussions with Church and government officials, the UNDA Board of Governors endorsed the proposal to open a Campus on the site of the historic St Benedict's Church and School in Broadway, Sydney in 2006, to be followed by the Medical and Nursing Schools on the Sacred Heart Darlinghurst site (adjacent to St Vincent's Hospital) in 2008. A formal agreement was signed between the Archdiocese of Sydney and the University which included provision of long-term 'peppercorn' leases of the very valuable and strategically located Broadway and Darlinghurst parish sites.

Cardinal Pell invited Notre Dame to Sydney because he wished to diversify and expand Catholic higher education in his diocese and because he wanted to see a Catholic medical school and a Catholic law school established there. UNDA accepted the invitation because it perceived it as a 'call to mission' and because it believed that a Sydney Campus would take it to a new level of national significance, adding great value to the education and qualifications it offered. It also envisaged study transfer opportunities between campuses for its students. This move to Sydney was strongly supported by the NDUS leaders although they recognised, as did the UNDA Board, that the early years would be a major financial, physical and management burden.

This proposed Sydney project was advanced greatly by the announcement by the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, on 1 August 2004 on the Broadway site, of formal Commonwealth approval for Notre Dame's Sydney Campus. The Prime Minister said his government would support a new medical school, capital funding for new facilities at Broadway and Darlinghurst, and Commonwealth-funded places (CSP's) in teaching, nursing and medicine.

The University's Sydney Campus had an almost meteoric start under the foundation leadership of its first Director, Mr Peter Glasson. From an initial enrolment of 450 students in 2005, it had grown to 1,700 students in 2008, mainly school-leaver undergraduates. Foundation Schools of Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, Law, Medicine, Nursing and Philosophy & Theology were established. Beautiful facilities on the historic Broadway and Darlinghurst sites were developed, under the expert design and supervision of the University's architect, Marcus Collins and on-site Manager, Terry Craig who, as in Fremantle and Broome, strove for consistency, functionality, beauty and economy on each site. Additional land and buildings adjacent to St Benedict's, Broadway were acquired, and a major capital development program was planned to take total Sydney enrolments to at least 5,000 by 2018. Although some of the funds for the Sydney Campus capital works came from grants from the Commonwealth Government, the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Sydney Catholic Education Office, most were in the form of interest bearing loans from the Sydney Archdiocesan Development Fund.

An event of great significance for Notre Dame and its Sydney Campus was the visit by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI to the Darlinghurst site on 18 July, 2008. Here the Pope formally opened the Benedict XVI Medical Library, named in his honour and in recognition of his personal visit to Notre Dame.

The University of Notre Dame Australia has developed from an inspired concept to a thriving institution in two decades. To do so it has had to face and overcome many challenges. It now has well-established Objects, enshrined in its Enabling Act of Parliament. It knows what it is and what it wants to be. It has achieved this because the foundation idea was a good one; because of the extraordinary and inspirational efforts of a substantial group of people in Australia and from the University of Notre Dame in the United States, led by Father Monk Malloy CSC; because of the generous and often courageous moral and material support it received from four outstanding Bishops in Perth, Broome and Sydney: William Foley, Barry Hickey, John Jobst and George Pell. These were rare, visionary Churchmen who led by example; because of the many gifts it received, small and large, from private benefactors and businesses who believed in the idea and mission of Notre Dame; because of the commitment to it from Federal and State governments and from both sides of politics in Australia; because of the faith and dedication of so many of its teachers, students and administrative staff; and because Jesus was at its heart.

The University of Notre Dame Australia is entering a new phase in its life, under new leadership. A new Vice Chancellor, Professor Celia Hammond, has been appointed to replace Dr Tannock who is retiring on 1 August 2008 after 17 years in the role. A new Chancellor, Dr Michael Quinlan has been appointed to replace the retiring Justice Neville Owen.

The University is still relatively young and, no doubt, it will be some years before it can be regarded as a mature institution. However, the potential for this unique University is very great indeed.

Dr Peter Tannock
July 2008