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Emeritus Professor Peter H Karmel AC CBE Vice-Chancellor 1966-1971

inspiring achievement


Emeritus Professor Peter Karmel AC CBE 9 May 1922 – 30 December 2008

Peter Karmel, Flinders University’s founding Vice-Chancellor and one of Australia’s most influential educationalists, died in Canberra on 30 December 2008 at the age of 86. His contributions to education and research, and his influence on generations of researchers, scholars and students were profound. After gaining first-class honours at The University of Melbourne in 1942, Peter worked for the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics from 1943 to 1945 and then, in 1946, taught Economics at The University of Melbourne. At the age of 27, he became Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Economics at The University of Adelaide. He began planning a new university that became Flinders University in 1961 during a period of rapid expansion in the Australian tertiary sector. It was also a time for innovation and Peter, speaking at a public meeting, explained his ambitions for the new campus: ‘We want to experiment and experiment bravely.’


Peter Karmel with former Premier of SA, Sir Thomas Playford on site during the construction of the Bedford Park Campus.

True to his word, he devised a non-traditional academic structure for Flinders aimed at broadening student experiences and academic opportunities by establishing four schools—Language and Literature, Social Sciences, Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences. Flinders was South Australia’s second university and, over the next few years, it demonstrated its distinctiveness by teaching several courses not previously seen in the state, including Sociology, Drama, Fine Arts, Spanish and Indonesian, as well as Oceanography and Meteorology. Peter was also instrumental in the planning of another radical yet enduring aspect of Flinders—the co-location of both the School of Medicine and the Flinders Medical Centre on the western edge of the campus. Professor Keith Hancock, Flinders’ third Vice-Chancellor and one of its six original professors, said Peter had set the character of the university: ‘Flinders University’s indebtedness to Peter Karmel is immense. He had a capacity, unique in my experience, to combine leadership with the nurturing and encouragement of the contributions of others. Peter’s talents were just what were needed in the early formative years of the university. His successors, including me, inherited a going concern.’


Peter left Flinders in 1971 to head the Canberra-based Australian Universities Commission and, after serving as its Chairman and heading its successor organisation, the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of The Australian National University in 1982. His influence extended well beyond the university sector and included two outstanding contributions to policy and governance in the schools sector. His 1971 report Education in South Australia set the foundations for the modernisation of school education in this state. Two years later, he again came to prominence with his 1973 report Schools in Australia (known as the Karmel Report) to the Whitlam Government, which was similarly transformative at the national level, putting the issue of social inequality on the political agenda. This resulted in a new program of federal spending on public and private schools. Although Peter retired from the ANU in 1987, he remained involved formally and informally in the continuing debate on higher education in Australia. A promoter of academic diversity among universities, he championed university independence from central control by government. Peter also continued to contribute to Flinders, conducting a Review of Administration in 1991. Karmel remained active in many aspects of public life, chairing the Australia Council, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and the Australian Council on AIDS. He is survived by his wife Lena, five daughters and a son, and 17 grandchildren. Flinders University is proud to remember Peter Karmel. The Karmel Endowment Fund will keep the Karmel legacy alive by providing scholarships, project funding and in serving the Flinders community by being ‘brave and inspiring’.

‘I remember him as a cheerful man with an immense sense of fun and a mind that towered over his colleagues at the AVCC meetings … We worked together again after he had retired. He was chair of the ANU Institute of the Arts and I was secretary of the creative arts fellowship committee. He had a deep grasp of the creative arts, which is unusual among economists. He did not put on airs and graces or pretend he was superior to others, but there is no doubt that he was.’ (Giles Pickford, former assistant secretary of the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee,)


The first meeting of the Bedford Park Professors, Feb 1964. L-R: Noel Stockdale (Librarian), Max Brennan (Physics), Oliver MacDonough (History), Howard Buchan (Secretary), Peter Karmel (Principal-designate), Max Clark (Biology), Ralph Elliot (English) Keith Hancock (Economics) Jack Clark-Lewis (Chemistry)

‘Peter was, in my opinion, one of a group of Australian economists who emerged in the 20th century and went on to be major contributors to the nation’s development.’ (Professor Keith Hancock)

‘Professor Karmel brought vision and an enduring set of values to this University. Forty years on, I have personally invoked his aspiration—to experiment and experiment bravely—in my recent conversation[s] with the Flinders community.’ (Professor Michael Barber, current Vice-Chancellor)


Adelaide 1971, just before moving to Canberra

‘Peter was extraordinary in the way he encouraged women at a time when that wasn’t fashionable.’ (Chancellor Emeritus, Sister Deirdre Jordan).

50th Wedding anniversary in 1996


Peter Henry Karmel AC, CBE BA (Melb.), PhD (Cantab.), Hon. LLD (UPNG, Qld, Melb., ANU), Hon. DLitt (Flinders, Murdoch, Macquarie), DUniv. (Newcastle), FASSA, FACE Born 9 May 1922, Melbourne 1942 First-class Honours at Melbourne University 1943-1946 Worked in the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics and was for a short time a Lecturer in Economic History at Melbourne 1946 Married Lena Garrett, Canberra 1947-1948 PhD, Cambridge University Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Melbourne 1950 The George Gollin Professor of Economics and Dean of the Faculty at the University of Adelaide First child, Prue, born (followed by Tom 1951, Jo 1954, Rose 1956, Pip 1963, Sam 1966) 1957-1958 Visiting Professor of Economics, Queen’s University, Belfast 1961 Principal-designate of a new university campus at Bedford Park 1965-1969 Chairman of the Interim Council of the University of Papua New Guinea 1966-1971 Vice-Chancellor of Flinders University 1969–1970 Chairman of the Committee of Enquiry into Education in South Australia 1969–1970 Chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea 1971–1977 Chairman of the Australian Universities Commission, Canberra 1972–1973 Chairman of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission (the Karmel Report) Chairman of the Committee of Enquiry on Medical Schools 1973–1974 Chairman of the Committee of Enquiry on an Open University 1974–1977 Chairman of the Australia Council 1974 Leader of the first Cultural Delegation from Australia to China 1975–1976 Chairman of the Committee on Post-Secondary Education in Tasmania 1977–1982 Chairman of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission 1978–1979 OECD Review of Education in the USA 1979–1999 President of the Australian Council of Educational Research 1980–1982 OECD Review of Education in New Zealand 1982–1987 Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University 1987–1990 President of the Academy of Social Sciences Australia 1987–1992 Chairman of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 1988–1991 Chairman of the Canberra Institute of the Arts 1988–1992 Chairman of the Australian National AIDS Council 1991 Chairman of Review of Administration, Flinders University 1992–2003 Chairman of the Board of the Institute of the Arts, ANU Died 30 December 2008, Canberra


inspiring achievement

Peter Karmel Memorial Booklet  

Flinders University is proud to remember Peter Karmel in perpetuity. The Karmel Endowment Fund has been developed to channel the support the...

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