The WA state government is assessing the possibility of amalgamating the four public universities due to low tertiary enrolments through a review announced this morning.
The six-month review, led by a panel of four academics across Australia, is expected to identify structural changes within the university sector as it bounces back from a post-pandemic climate.
The state government said the review was ordered to better support the university sector, as WA had the smallest percentage growth of university enrolments with only 13.6 per cent compared to 32.3 per cent across Australia.
While university executives were told of the upcoming review, student guilds in WA were left out despite being established by the same legislation the government is reviewing.
Curtin Student Guild President Dylan Botica says he is disappointed by the lack of student consultation on a review that would potentially affect them.
“Any review that has scope to abolish student guilds cannot be conducted with a complete lack of engagement with those bodies, under a Labor government no less.”
Grok Magazine obtained verified documents from an anonymous whistleblower, a university senate member, which revealed executives from a WA university were sent a media statement and a terms of reference prior to the announcement this morning.
The anonymous whistleblower who cannot be identified due to security concerns said a merger of student guilds may reduce funds for student assistance and cause confusion between various guilds as they have different governance structures and incompatible cultures.
A spokesperson for Education Minister Tony Buti said while the panel decides who to consult, there is a possibility of a collaboration with student guilds down the line.
“Given that the terms of reference make specific reference to students, it would be surprising if they didn’t consult with student’s representative bodies.”
Could we see a “super university” in the future?
An amalgamation to create a super university is similar to plans currently underway in South Australia.
The University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia is expected to complete their merger as a new institution under the new name, Adelaide University, on January 2026.
The merger was proposed to create a stronger university and position itself as one of the “world’s top 100” institutions, becoming Australia’s largest university with over 70,000 students.
While merging universities may help boost their rankings, Mr Botica believes creating “super universities” will affect the structure of student guilds when there are more pressing issues affecting students.
“The Curtin Student Guild has been calling on the federal and state government to support students during the rental crisis, especially for International students,” he said.
“To prioritise a review over ensuring students have a place to stay and live shows how out of touch the government is.”
Mergers affect not only students, but staff members
National Union of Students President Bailey Riley said merging universities often means unions are unable to offer individual representation for students.
“We’ve seen this when unions merge, and suddenly these student guilds are taking on an additional thousands of people. It wouldn’t be fair to nor is it possible to represent them all.”
Ms Riley said it is hard to predict outcomes when it comes to a merger.
“It’s such a new thing so it’s going to be interesting. What does this mean for the staff and students? Will students get more classes? Will staff members get more money? The issues could be quite big because what does this mean for student representation,” she said.
“Mergers always lead to job losses, and we’ve already seen the grim conditions NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) are facing. It’s not just about student unionism but job losses too.”
While the review threatens the existence of student unionism, the state government is confident the review will help strengthen student outcomes and experiences.
Premier Mark McGowan said the review will allow WA universities to make improvements and attract a high calibre of researchers and students.
“It’s critical that we have the right settings in place to give WA’s public universities the best chance of success, in order to maximise their contribution to WA’s future prosperity.”
Updated 5.06pm to include comments from Education Minister’s spokesperson.