Interest Higher Education
Robert Menzies had a strong interest in higher education, and particularly in universities. One of his earliest expressions of the importance of universities dates from 1939 when he gave the annual commencement address at the Canberra University College. The first function of a university, according to Menzies, was 'to be a home for pure culture and learning' (p. 11):
Learning, 'academic learning' as is sometimes half-contemptuously designated, is one of those civilized and civilizing things which the world needs as never before... Let me defend a so-called useless scholarship on the great grounds that it represents a sanity badly needed in an insane world... that it points the moral that the mere mechanics of life can never be the sole vocation of the human spirit. (Menzies, 1939, 11-12).
In 1956, Menzies established an inquiry into universities in Australia. Inspired in part by the work of the British University Grants Committee, Australia's Committee on Australian Universities (often referred to as the Murray Committee) was charged with making recommendations to ensure the long-term growth and relevance of Australia's universities. A key outcome of the committee's report was the establishment of the Australian Universities Commission to oversee the development and funding of Australian universities.
The Menzies era also saw the building of new Australian universities - including Monash and La Trobe Universities in Melbourne (1958 and 1964) and Flinders University in South Australia (1966) - and the establishment of the Australian Research Grants Committee (1965).
Menzies' involvement in the university sector continued after his retirement. From 1967 to 1972, he was Chancellor of the University of Melbourne where he had himself studied fifty years earlier.
Menzies, R.G. 1939. The Place of a University in the Modern Community: An Address. Delivered at the Annual Commencement of the Canberra University College, 1939. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
White, Frederick. 1979. 'Robert Gordon Menzies. 20 December 1894-15 May 1978.' Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 25 (November): 445-76.