Australian Catholic University – ACU

1        Australian Catholic University


Australian Catholic University

LatinAustraliana Catholica Universitas


Qualify for life






Brother Julian McDonald CFCAO


Professor Greg Craven








Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra,Ballarat, and Melbourne,various states, Australia


Urban, Suburban, Rural


Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, Association of Commonwealth Universities, International Federation of Catholic Universities, New Generation Universities


Australian Catholic University, or ACU National, is Australia’s only public Catholic university. It has more than 13,000 students and 900 staff on six campuses located in three states and the Australian Capital Territory. ACU National, which is open to all staff and students regardless of their religious beliefs, is affiliated with the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the International Federation of Catholic Universities. Western Australian academic Greg Craven became the Vice Chancellor at the start of 2008[1].

The University was formed in 1991 by the amalgamation of four Catholic institutes of higher education in Queensland, New South WalesVictoria and the Australian Capital Territory. ACU National and its predecessor institutions have played an important role in Australia by training many teachers and nurses employed in the public, Catholic and other health systems.

The university’s Mission aims to add a “spiritual dimension” to higher education in Australia, similar to the aims of the great Catholic universities of Europe and North America. There is a strong social justice element in the university’s Mission and programs.

1.2       History

The Catholic schooling system in Australia developed in parallel with the state education systems in the 19th century. Australian Catholics, predominantly ofIrish descent, wanted to educate their children in their faith in a country where Protestants were in the ascendancy. When state aid was stopped to Catholic schools in the late 19th century, the Catholic bishops sent for Irish brothers and nuns to staff their schools. Until the mid-20th century, the majority of teachers in Australian Catholic schools were members of religious orders, including the Christian BrothersSisters of MercyDominicans and Marist Brothers.[3]

The predecessors of ACU National were established as religious institutes to train Australian youth for religious life and to staff Catholic schools and hospitals. The first of these was established in 1850, a year before Australia’s first university, the University of Sydney.[4] In the mid-20th century, these colleges began to admit lay students, and the Catholic Teacher Training Colleges were established from the former religious institutes. By the 1980s, these were known asColleges of Advanced Education (CAEs).

The Dawkins Reforms of the late 1980s and a desire of the Federal government to deal with one Catholic institution led to the merger of these former CAEs to become the Australian Catholic University. More than 20 historical entities shaped the creation of the university. The four institutions that amalgamated to become ACU National were the Catholic College of Education Sydney in New South Wales, the Institute of Catholic Education in Victoria, McAuley College of Queensland, and Signadou College of Education in the Australian Capital Territory.

Australian Catholic University opened its doors on 1 January 1991. Originally there were eight campuses; the merger of the two Melbourne campuses Mercy atAscot Vale and Christ at Oakleigh led to the creation of the Melbourne Campus (St Patrick’s) in Fitzroy. There were formerly three campuses in Sydney. TheCastle Hill campus was closed and staff and students moved to Strathfield and North Sydney. In 2003, the McAuley campus moved from the Brisbane suburb of Mitchelton to larger accommodations in the suburb of Banyo.

ACU National was adopted as the acronym of the University in 2001 to distinguish it from other bodies using ‘ACU’ and to emphasise its unique position as a national Australian University.

1.3       Organisational structure

ACU National is established in Victoria as a company, the Australian Catholic University Limited. The president of the company is the Archbishop of Sydney, currently George Cardinal Pell. The acts recognising the university are the Australian Catholic University Act 1991 in Victoria, the Australian Catholic University Act 1990 in NSW and the Australian Catholic University Act 2006 in Queensland. Members of the Senate of ACU National are directors of Australian Catholic University Limited. Their fiduciary powers requires them to act in the best interests of the university.

The Senate consists of the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor who are members ex-officio, the Pro-Chancellor, eight community members, three members of the academic staff, one member of the general staff, and one student. The Senate is the governing body of the university. The Academic Board‘s role is to administer and implement academic policies. Each state and territory has a chapter composed of community members and whose role is to advise on issues which affect their local communities.

The chief executive officer of the university is the Vice-Chancellor. There are three Pro-Vice-Chancellors, one in each state and individually responsible for Research and International, Quality and Outreach, and Academic Affairs. The Canberra and Ballarat campuses have a Rector who, like the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, is the Vice-Chancellor’s representative on the campus. The Vice-Chancellor, a member of the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, is based at North Sydney.

1.4       Campuses

ACU National currently has six campuses, located in Brisbane, Sydney (2), Canberra, Ballarat and Melbourne.

1.4.1       Brisbane

The Brisbane Campus (McAuley at Banyo) is located in the capital city of Queensland and is the third largest of the university’s campuses. The campus is in the suburban area of Banyo, which is approximately 12 kilometres from the centre of Brisbane. The 40 hectare campus was formerly the home of the Pius XIIseminary, which dates back to 1863. The Brisbane campus offers programs in arts, business, education, information systems, nursing, psychology, social science, theology and social work.

The former campus at McAuley was established in 1955 as McAuley College by the Sisters of Mercy to train their sisters as Catholic school teachers. They later admitted sisters from other orders, and in 1973 admitted lay students. McAuley became part of ACU National at the end of 1990 and relocated to its present site in 2003. It is now known as McAuley at Banyo.

1.4.2       North Sydney

The North Sydney (MacKillop) Campus is one of two ACU National campuses located in Sydney, Australia’s largest city. The campus is in a city location in Sydney’s second CBD, located on the northern side of Sydney Harbour. North Sydney is also home to the university’s Vice-Chancellry and administration offices. The courses offered at the North Sydney campus are nursing, environmental science, business and informatics.

The campus is named for Mary MacKillop, founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart in South Australia in 1866. The campus was established by the Sisters in 1913 and lay students were admitted in 1958. In 1971 the college became the Catholic Teachers’ College and was amalgamated into the Catholic College of Education, Sydney in 1982.

1.4.3       Strathfield

The Strathfield (Mount St. Mary – commonly referred to as MSM) Campus is located 13 kilometres from the city centre of Sydney. It is the second largest campus in the university. The Strathfield campus offers programs in arts, education, exercise science, social work and theology.

The property was originally known as Mt. Royal and was once the home of Australia’s fourth Prime Minister, Sir George Reid, before being purchased by the Christian Brothers in 1908. The Brothers originally used the site as a provincial headquarters and as a centre for trainee Brothers known as Mount Saint Mary College. The adjacent St Patrick’s College was established by the Brothers in 1928, in part as a training school. Lay male students were admitted in the 1970s and female students were admitted in the 1980s. In 1982, as a requirement of the Federal government, Mount Saint Mary College amalgamated with other institutions to form the Catholic College of Education, Sydney.

1.4.4       Canberra

The Canberra Campus (Signadou) is one of the two smaller campuses of the university. At 35.246°S 149.154°E, it is located in the Canberra suburb ofWatson, which is five kilometres from the Canberra Central Business District. The Canberra campus offers programs in arts, education, theology, nursing and a joint program in social work and arts with Australian National University.

The Dominican Sisters’ Teacher Training College was established in Maitland in 1926 and relocated to Sydney after the Hunter Valley floods of 1955. In 1963 the Dominicans established Signadou College and admitted sisters from other orders.

1.4.5       Ballarat

The Ballarat (Aquinas) Campus, in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat, is ACU National’s only campus not located in a capital city. Programs offered include nursing, teaching and theology.

The campus dates its history back to the establishment of the Aquinas Training College in 1909 by the Ballarat East Sisters of Mercy. Then known as Sacred Heart Training College, in the 1960s the college moved to another location in Ballarat. In 1974, the Catholic Teachers’ College of the Diocese of Ballarat moved to the university’s present site and was known as Aquinas College. The campus includes a two-story mansion built in 1881, Carn Brea, an example of the properties built in the town from profits of the Victorian Gold Rush of the mid-1800s.

1.4.6       Melbourne

The Melbourne (St. Patrick’s) Campus is located in the inner-city suburb of Fitzroy and is the largest campus of the university. A relatively new campus, having opened in 2000, it features a mix of modern and heritage buildings. The campus’ main building is located at 115 Victoria Parade, and was formerly occupied by the Reserve Bank of Australia. The campus also includes Central Hall, which played a prominent role in the live music scene of the late 1960s and early ’70s (also see T. F. Much Ballroom).

This campus offers courses in arts, business, education, exercise science, information systems, nursing, music, psychology, social sciences, theology and visual arts.

The history of ACU National in Melbourne can be traced back to Mercy Teacher Training College, formed in 1908, and Christ College, established in 1967. These colleges became Mercy campus, Ascot Vale and Christ campus, Oakleigh when the university was formed. The University moved to its present Melbourne location in 2000. The site has been used for Catholic education for more than a century.

1.5       Academia

ACU National has 13,775 total students, with 9,351 undergraduates and 3,681 postgraduate students. The student body is 69.8% female and 30.2% male. ACU National has more than 10,000 local students, 1,600 international students and 270 Indigenous students. ACU has about 601 academic staff and 477 general staff members. The breakdown of students by faculty is as follows: Research services 363 (2.7%); Arts and Sciences 4,330 (31.4%); Education 5,239 (38.0%); Health Sciences 2,811 (20.4%) and combined schools 1,032 (7.5%).[5]

According to Department of Education Science and Training (DEST), ACU National has a student to teacher ratio of 18.5:1. It is “one of the leading universities in Australia in the fields of education and health sciences” and also offers “first-class programs” in a number of other fields.[6] The Good Universities Guide 2006 places ACU National in the top 20% of Australian universities for the proportion of Indigenous students.

1.5.1       Rankings

In 2002, ACU National was audited by the Australian Universities Quality Agency as part of the regular processes of the Federal government. The report found that ACU National’s achievements in bringing together its predecessor colleges into one university and establishing a research culture were “very impressive.”[7] It commended the university in a number of areas including “substantially achieving” its mission statement, building a university culture, extensive self-reviewing, and community engagement. However, the report recommended the following be implemented: ensuring that the university continues to operate according to its Mission; ensure that students understand the national nature of the university and are involved in decision making and communication; further develop its research capabilities and; developing the library resources available to students.[7]

According to Good Universities Guide, Australian Catholic University gets four stars from its graduates in rating of the educational experience. North Sydney, Strathfield and Brisbane are rated four stars in toughness to gain admittance. Canberra, Ballarat and Melbourne are rated two stars in the same category. Compared with other universities, the size of the student body is average. The proportion of Indigenous students is very high, and there is a low proportion of non-English speaking undergraduates and postgraduates.[8]

In the Teaching Performance Rankings, released in August 2005 by the Department of Education, Science and Training, ACU National was ranked 13th of the 38 Australian universities. These rankings were based on criteria such as course experience, teaching, graduate employment rates, drop out and course completion rates.[9] In 2005, the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research released its Index of the International Standing of Australian Universities. This measured a university by its research output as well as the quality of its undergrad and postgrad programs. ACU National was ranked 35th out the 38 Australian universities with an index score of 37 out of a possible 100.[10]

1.5.2       Research

In making the transition from CAE’s to a university, ACU National has had to adapt from a teaching only institution to one which is involved in both teaching and research. The university has identified a number of areas of priority known as Flagships and Centres. ACU National has the following research flagships:Mathematics Education and LiteracyCreative and Authentic Leadership and Quality of Life and Social Justice.

1.5.3       Faculties and schools

ACU National has three faculties: Arts and SciencesEducation; and Health Sciences. Within the Arts and Sciences faculty are there also two sub-faculties:Business and Informatics; and Philosophy and Theology. Each faculty is headed by a Dean, supported by a Deputy Dean. Courses are offered in each faculty at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The three foundation faculties are divided into schools:

Arts and sciences

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences operates on all campuses and offers degrees in Arts, Business, Environmental Science, Hotel Management, Information Systems, Psychology, Social Sciences, Social Work, Theology and Visual Arts and Design. The faculty also comprises the two sub-faculties of Business and Informatics; and Philosophy and Theology.


The Faculty of Education, through its various schools, is a major provider of primary and secondary teachers in the Catholic, private and public systems. The faculty operates on the Brisbane, Strathfield, Canberra, Ballarat and Melbourne campuses. Courses offered include undergrad and postgrad teacher training, Aboriginal education, adult and community education and higher research degrees. The Faculty of Education also offers postgraduate courses through learning centres in KarachiMauritius and New Zealand.

Health Sciences

The Faculty of Health Sciences offers degrees in nursing, midwifery and exercise science. Nursing and midwifery are offered on the Brisbane, North Sydney, Ballarat and Melbourne campuses. Exercise science is offered on the Melbourne and Strathfield campuses only.

Institute of Legal Studies

The Institute of Legal Studies was established at the end of 2005 and is set up to cater for those who need legal knowledge as part of their career but do not wish to study for a law degree. The institute’s courses are targeted at education and health professionals as well as those working in the area of human rights and social justice. [11]


ACUcom is ACU National’s continuing education division and offers a range of business, vocational and international courses. It is based in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. Courses include postgraduate certificates in TESOL and inclusive education as well as VET and business short courses.

1.6       Student life

1.6.1       Organisations

Students are represented at a national level by the Australian Catholic University National Students Association (ACUNSA), comprising of the six local Campus Student Association Presidents and chaired by the Student Member of Senate. ACUNSA’s role is to actively support the local Campus Student Associations and provide representation and a voice for Students on a National level.

Each campus has its own Student Association. Campus Student Associations are responsible for providing students with cultural, sporting, recreational, spiritual and social opportunities and representing the needs of the student body to the university.

ACUNSA and the Student Associations have recently launched a website ([]) and are currently formulating a series of Strategic Planning documents that will serve the purpose of driving the associations forward over the next three years and more effectively serving students.

The 2009 ACUNSA is: James Wood – Student Senator Christian Colangelo – Melbourne President Jess Cannane – Ballarat President Esther Ross – Canberra President Michael Villella – North Sydney President Stacy Allan – Strathfield President Christine Tesch – Brisbane President

1.6.2       Services

Students at ACU National are also provided with a range of Student Services such as counselling, academic skills advice, disabilities support and campusministry. The Student Services team work with Student Associations on many projects.

Students have access to free, confidential, counselling services to give support with issues affecting their studies or lives in general. Academic skills advisers can assist students with developing their study skills by offering individual sessions or group workshops. Disabilities services supports students with disabilities and chronic medical conditions with issues that may affect their studies. Campus ministers on each campus are there for pastoral care and arrange liturgical celebrations and often works of charity.

There are three indigenous units catering for the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. These are Jim-baa-yer in Victoria; Weemala in Queensland; and Yalbalinga in New South Wales. Their role is to provide support for full-time indigenous students as well as arranging residentials for students studying by distance education.

1.7       Sports

ACU National and its predecessor institutions have produced first grade AFL and rugby league players including Justin Madden (AFL), now Victorian sports minister and Des Hasler, coach of Manly-Warringah Sea EaglesDeborah Sosimenko, who represented Australia in the hammer throw at the 2004 Olympics is a graduate of ACU National.[12] The former Castle Hill campus was home to the Nirimba Polecats who competed in NSW Tertiary Student Rugby League even after the campus was closed down. In 2002 they won the club championship and were runner-up in First Division. In 2003, they aligned themselves to UWSNirimba campus. An ACU National team in Brisbane competes in the Queensland Student Rugby League Division B and were premiers in 2000.

ACU National students compete at their respective regional University Games, attempting to qualify for the Australian University Games (AUG’s), the pinnacle of university sport in Australia. Since 1993, thirty-two students from ACU National have been selected in Green and Gold teams, representing Australian universities.[13] Krystal Weir was selected for the 2005 World University Summer Games, representing ACU National and Australia in sailing[14] In 2001, ACU National’s rugby union team received a wildcard entry into the AUG’s and surpassed expectations by reaching the semi-finals. The team lost its semi-final toCharles Sturt UniversityBathurst and were placed fourth, losing the bronze medal playoff to University of New England.[15] 2004 was a very successful year for ACU National sport, winning five gold, one silver and three bronze medals at the 2004 AUG’s, including gold in men’s AFL. That year the university also captured regional titles in indoor cricketfutsalrugby league 7’s, and women’s AFL. [16]


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