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History of the University

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A Summary History 1951-2000

The University of Wollongong came into existence on 1 January 1975. A summary history, extracted from Josie Castle's University of Wollongong - An Illustrated History, University of Wollongong, 1991, is reproduced below.

The Wollongong Division 1951-61

The University of Wollongong can trace its origins back to 1951 as the Wollongong Division of the New South Wales University of Technology. The latter institution, based at Kensington, had opened in 1949, with a specific brief as a technical university, placing a strong emphasis on the engineering disciplines, as opposed to the more traditional arts and science strands. There was a need for such training in Illawarra, with its heavy industry based around coal extraction and iron and steel production.

The Wollongong Division operated out of the Wollongong Technical College, Gladstone Avenue. The Wollongong Trades School / Technical College had originally opened in 1928 - around the same time as the Port Kembla steel works was being built - with diploma courses introduced in 1935. As early as 1938 a site at North Wollongong had been earmarked for future development of technical and further education facilities in Illawarra, and the foundation for the first building at the North Wollongong Technical College was laid during 1942.

Frank Mathews, chief engineer of Australian Iron & Steel (Port Kembla) and president of the Technical Education District Committee, was instrumental in efforts to improve local tertiary training facilities after the War. In 1947 he became a member of the Developmental Council of the University of Technology at Kensington, and from this position was able to support the creation of the Wollongong Division in 1951. In 1953 he proposed the establishment of a university and cultural complex at North Wollongong, alongside the Technical College site. As a result, 245 acres abutting on to Northfields Avenue were purchased.

The Wollongong Division at Gladstone Avenue continued to grow during the fifties, from the initial enrolment of 171 students in the four schools of Applied Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering. Students were drawn largely from the local steel and coal industries, with strong links between the University and such organisations remaining to this day. In 1955 a local Students Union was formed, and Division of Engineering and Science were added in 1960.

Following calls for an upgrade of Illawarra tertiary teaching facilities during the latter half of the decade, and the getting up of a Lord Mayoral Appeal Fund in 1957, money was subsequently made available by local industry and State and Federal government in 1959 for the creation of Wollongong University College (WUC), to operate under the control of the University of New South Wales. During 1960-1 the first buildings at the present Northfields Avenue, North Wollongong site were erected, on an area of land formerly occupied by the O'Leary farm and orchard. A Warden, C.A.M. Gray was also appointed during 1961.

Wollongong University College 1962-74

The Wollongong University College was officially opened by the Governor General, Viscount de L'Isle, on 1 March 1962. The College then operated throughout the sixties and early seventies as a Division of the University of New South Wales, with a strong focus on the engineering and metallurgical disciplines. Construction of buildings for the adjacent Wollongong Teachers College also began during 1962.

The first WUC graduation ceremony was held on 29 March 1963. The following year saw the introduction of Arts, Commerce and General Studies courses, the creation of the University Union, and the formation of the Staff Association. The Union building was opened during 1965, as was the Wollongong Teachers College, on the western edge of WUC.

By 1966 the staff and students were beginning to express a sense of fraternity with the College. This resulted in increasing protests against central control from Kensington, and the call for autonomy. However this was not to come until 1975. In the interim, a Wollongong University Council was formed in 1969 to prepare for this. During 1972 the University of Wollongong Bill was passed, and a Secretary and Bursar appointed. Michael Birt was appointed Vice-Chancellor Designate in 1973, and an Interim Academic Senate was also created.

Throughout the sixties and early seventies the building program continued - there were extensions to Civil Engineering (1966); the opening of the Union Hall and Arts, Commerce & Science building in 1970; Library Stage I in 1971; and Stage I of the Science building in 1972.

University of Wollongong: The Michael Birt Years 1975-80

The University of Wollongong was established as an independent body on 1 January 1975, with Professor Michael Birt as its inaugural Vice Chancellor. It was governed by a University Council and Academic Senate, with five faculties - Engineering, Humanities, Mathematics, Sciences and Social Sciences.

In 1976 Justice Robert Hope was installed as Chancellor and the building program saw the completion of Union Stage I, Library Stage 2, Sciences Stage 2, Social Science Stage I, the Pentagon, and the Sport and Recreation Centre. International House was acquired in 1980, and that year also saw the opening of Kids Uni and Social Science Stage 2.

During his time as Vice Chancellor, Michael Birt had been responsible for getting the University of Wollongong up and running, and also preparing it for amalgamation with the Wollongong Teachers College / Wollongong Institute of Education (WIE) in 1982. He left Wollongong to take on the position of Vice Chancellor at the University of New South Wales.

The Ken McKinnon Era 1981-94

Dr Ken McKinnon was appointed Vice Chancellor in 1981. He oversaw the University's amalgamation with the WIE in 1982 and went on to develop links with the local community and industry, plus transform the physical makeup of the campus during his time at Vice Chancellor, with an extensive building and landscaping program.

In 1981 the Friends of the University group was formed. 1983 saw the creation of the faculty of Commerce, the School of Creative Arts, and Research Centres for Technology & Social Change, and Mining were established. In 1984 the Illawarra Technology Centre was formed, the Faculty of Education created, and a new building program commenced. This was to result in the construction/opening of the Technology Centre (1985); Kooloobong (1985, 1986, 1990); Weerona (1986); Administration, Union Mall, Sports Association and ITC during 1987; Library Stage 3 (1988); ITC Stage 2, multi-storey carpark, Union extensions, and heated swimming pool in 1990. The period 1991-4 saw the construction of the Hope Theatre, the McKinnon building to house Law, and Building 40 to accommodate Commerce.

Apart from the building program, there were many structural changes within Administration and Faculties. A new Council, constituted under the 1989 University of Wollongong Act, took office in 1990.

Last reviewed: 6 September, 2017