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Founding Vice Chancellor inspires at 25th Ceremonial Graduation

Forward-thinking courses and locally-based research with international relevance. When Southern Cross University opened its doors in 1994 it set out to be break the traditional university mould.

At the helm was Founding Vice Chancellor Professor Barry Conyngham. Under his leadership, Southern Cross led the sector with innovative and in-demand courses like tourism, coastal management, popular music and medical crops.

These days Professor Conyngham AM, a composer as well as academic, is Dean of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne. He returned to the Lismore campus in April 2019 to celebrate the University’s 25th Ceremonial Graduation. In his address Professor Conyngham said Australian universities were now too similar, lacking distinctive differences that make them compelling to prospective students.

Yet universities such as Southern Cross could change that: “Regional universities, reflecting on the nature of their locations, should try to focus on proactively being different to the sandstones and metros,” he said.

“We live in challenging and uncertain times. The best chance of continued success still rests in knowing how to identify what has changed and what has not, reflecting the region and those who now live and work in it, offering something different while connecting to our region. Let this place (the Northern Rivers) itself engender new strategies to hold on to its local young people while attracting others from around the world.”

Professor Conyngham said regional universities would benefit from more research dollars.

“While universities such as Melbourne need to have a very comprehensive program to compete with places like Harvard, regional universities need to focus. Southern Cross can produce teaching and research that is world-class, but it is more likely when linked to the quality and distinctiveness of their communities and locations.”