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Writing for the Institute of Advanced Studies in 2006 Emeritus Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya described The University of Western Australia (UWA) as a "civic university".
It is an apt description of a university which came into existence by way of the University Act of 1911.
Professorial appointments followed as did the first batch of 184 students in 1913.
In 1929, work began for the campus at Crawley with its magnificent Winthrop Hall and clock tower. Much has changed since in numbers of students, diversity of offerings, regional outreach and overseas connections.
However, the civic nature of enlightened utilitarianism of the University promoted by its most important backer Sir John Winthrop Hackett (1848 - 1916) remains intact.
Professor Jayasuriya defined it as a blending of "a professional ethos with a liberal and humanising curriculum".
Such an idea made sense then just as it does today. Western Australia had moved from colony to state and needed professionals to build and manage its future.
To use modern language UWA was conceived to be the state's leading agent for the development of human capital.
However, this was not enough. English, History and Economics were there from the beginning.
Building a State was one thing; examining its culture, politics and economics in their environmental, national and international contexts another - but equally important!
Self-awareness of the contradictions that exist at the heart of any community is never easy.
Western Australia is no exception.
Having a University that was able to encourage reflection about the past, present and future of the State has been of great significance. Other institutions associated with politics and the media can play this role but are too compromised to do it as effectively as a University.
As Editor of ‘The West Australian' newspaper, Hackett understood this only too well.
This takes me to the criticism that is often made of universities and UWA in particular.
It is, so the argument goes, an elite institution designed by the elite for the elite. It is true of course that UWA was set up to reflect and maintain the highest academic standards when appointing staff and conferring degrees. In this sense it is elitist.
So too was it understood that its task was to help in the creation of thinking leaders, particularly in the professions. However, it was to do this by opening its doors to all who qualified, no matter what their background.
It was formed as a free and secular university that prohibited discrimination against women and promoted equal opportunity.
Interestingly, it was the casting vote of Hackett (as Chancellor of the Senate) that ensured tuition was free - a position maintained until 1961.
Note too the words in the 1911 Act: "special encouragement and assistance should be afforded those who may be hindered in the acquisition of sound knowledge and useful learning by lack of opportunity or means". Thus it was that adult education and extension studies soon became part of its offerings.
Such principles are still alive today, particularly in the Telethon Institute for Child Research where Professor Fiona Stanley educates through involvement and involves through education many from the State's indigenous population.
As an undergraduate from 1969 to 1971, I saw all of these principles at work. My intellectual horizons and analytical capacities were challenged. My world expanded and foraging through the shelves of the Reid Library became one my favourite pastimes.
Somewhere in there I always knew there was something new to find - a new way of looking at an old problem or a better and clearer way of describing established wisdom.
Habits were learnt that have served me well as an analyst or practitioner.
Like many before me, and many since, I owe a debt of gratitude to my lecturers and tutors - in my case from the disciplines of economics, economic history, history and geography.
They demonstrated to me the power and the limitations of ideas whether they took shape as comprehensive ideologies like liberalism or socialism, or whether they were as straightforward as preconceptions held by the early settlers about the Swan River Colony, its land and its indigenous inhabitants.
Ideas and experience, thinking and acting ... the cycle continues.
In reflecting on the history of UWA, I am drawn to three thought experiments. Imagine WA without University students. Imagine WA without overseas students. Imagine WA without the Festival of Perth.
Universities are unique in the freedoms they have and promote (even though they are never completely free of compromise).
Students combine in order to participate in the activities they love like sport, culture or politics or in the activities they know to be important like support for the disadvantaged and underprivileged.
Activities like Prosh and Camp for Kids, institutions like the Student Guild and clubs like the University Cricket Club have helped teach generation after generation of students important political and organisational skills.
Even though the universities of today aren't as easy as they were - tuition fees and living expenses have seen to that - they still provide a relatively non-threatening environment in which to gain experience.
By strongly supporting student life over the century - sometimes to the annoyance of the State's political and business leaders - UWA's Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors have served the State well.
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