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OnDitmagazine ― Features

James McWha, Vice Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, is largely responsible for the developmental direction of the university. We speak to the Vice Chancellor on Union Hall and its intended replacement: the Institute of Photonics and Advanced Sensing.


Why build on campus? Why not move this away?

What of the Adelaide arts community and their need for theatres?

Photonics and some of the other groups that will be using the new facilities are interdisciplinary. That’s one of the things we’re trying to promote, so that activities aren’t just focused in one discipline. Most of the big advances in research are coming at the margins, between disciplines. Say, photonics and biology, or photonics and medicine, and engineering. And if we move the photonics institute away, we’ve lost half of that. We’re very keen not to have that happen. We’ve got 41 heritage structures around the university, so it’s not like we’re short of them, and we put a lot of effort into sustaining them. The downside is that we don’t have vast acreages of ultramodern facilities.

We host more festival events on our campus than any other physical location except for the Festival Centre. More happens on this campus than anywhere else, but they haven’t wanted to use Union Theatre. So you have to think, well, is it really that vital? The only people who used it were people who wanted a cheap location, because we largely subsidize use of it for a lot of the groups who were using it. The truth is that there are quite a few theatres around Adelaide. What I do appreciate is that there are quite a lot of people who have a strong sentimental and emotional attachment to it for historical reasons, and that’s perfectly understandable. But it was never updated because nobody wanted to use it. Basically, it isn’t our job to provide theatres for the general community, especially when we have to do it out of money we are given for teaching. If we do it, what we’d be doing is saying 'We’re not going to spend the money teaching our students, we’re going to spend it maintaining a theatre for whoever wants to use a theatre.' That’s pretty hard to justify.

What will students gain from the development? The Institute is attracting world-leading figures to work in it, and they’re teaching the students, and the idea then is that the students can be trained in these sorts of areas, and the job opportunities if you have training from a world-class group of this sort in something like photonics, then the job market just opens up to you worldwide. So our students, those who are directly involved, will get tremendous opportunities for future careers. Those who are taking it as a subject for interest will get expose to technologies which offer them, whatever area they go into, terrific opportunities to interact in those areas. The research students of course will be located in the facility, and the idea is to have a large core of post-graduate students working in the facility. And that should give them some tremendous opportunities. And there will of course be undergraduate teaching in the department, perhaps in some labs or depending on what we do then.”

This is an extract from a longer interview. The full transcript is available at:

On Dit Magazine: Volume 78, Issue 1  

On Dit Magazine is a fortnightly Australian student magazine with an emphasis on exceptional writing, photography, and illustration.

On Dit Magazine: Volume 78, Issue 1  

On Dit Magazine is a fortnightly Australian student magazine with an emphasis on exceptional writing, photography, and illustration.