The University of Wollongong owes its very foundation to the vision and generosity of the local community. It was the people of the region – many who had not had access to a university education themselves – who made the dream of UOW possible. We look back at how it all began.
The University of Wollongong was founded by a philanthropic vision to establish a university that would serve the needs of the local industry and create opportunities for generations to come.
Heavy industry in the Illawarra region was booming in the late 1950s but the technical education sector had reached a crisis point. The institution that existed could no longer serve as a base for university courses while also training apprentices for the trades.
The unveiling of the UOW Founding Donors Memorial Bench in 1978.
It was time for the region to have a separate university college to produce engineers, metallurgists and chemists.
That vision inspired hundreds of residents and businesses to become founding donors. Among the philanthropic group were industry leaders like BHP and Metal Manufactures along with smaller businesses like Russell, McLelland & Brown (now RMB Lawyers), Port Kembla Stevedoring & Agency Co and The Federal Coke Co.
But what is most surprising about the list of founding donors, is the number of individuals who gave what they could spare, whether under their own name or as part of a group or club. So many cakes must have been baked for stalls, hats passed around for collections and vanishing tea parties* hosted to raise money.
The founding donors list includes 25 P&C associations, a mothers group, a Country Women’s Association Branch, a Lions Club branch and a hairdressing salon. The vision for a better future for our region captured the imagination of ordinary people, many of whom would not have had a university education themselves.
Every student who has studied at UOW, every staff member who has worked here, every researcher who has sought answers has benefitted from that philanthropic gift that gave birth to the global institution we know today.
A report from a working committee tasked with fundraising said: “The committee wishes to stress that this help from so many diverse interests in the community has been a source of great encouragement and indeed without it a worthwhile result would not have been possible.
“This district has shown its understanding of the compelling need for a University College here and its contribution is, in effect, a demand for urgent action.”
The Wollongong University College Mayoral Appeal Fund raised £50,000 and was combined with £138,000 raised by major industry players and State and Federal Government grants to establish Wollongong University College in 1961.
RMB managing partner and UOW Fellow, Craig Osborne, says his predecessors saw the value of investing in the University in its infancy.
“The partners of RMB saw the importance of education to improving the capability of people in Wollongong and regional NSW and beyond,” he says. “UOW has exceeded the expectations of my business partner forbears. We believe the University is a leader in so many facets of life, education, research and business. It has become a lightning rod for so much development towards a more informed and better world. RMB sees UOW’s growth in performance, significance and positive effect as perfectly aligned to RMB’s purpose.
“We have come to understand and believe wholeheartedly that the University makes each dollar work better for the world than we possibly can. We encourage others who are considering making a philanthropic donation to the University of Wollongong to look at the bigger picture and the future and get behind one of our most significant allies in life.”
To remember UOW’s philanthropic foundations and vision, a donor bench was unveiled in 1978. In November, on the 40th anniversary of that unveiling, we took the time to celebrate UOW’s founding donors and emphasise the message that philanthropy is the spine which runs through the body of the University.
“Every student who has studied at UOW, every staff member who has worked here, every researcher who has sought answers has benefitted from that philanthropic gift that gave birth to the global institution we know today,” says Advancement Division Director Monique Harper-Richardson.
“But philanthropy is not just part of our past. UOW has become a place where those who wish to make a difference to our world, who want to answer the most pressing questions, collaborate for change. It is a place where those who have a vision for our future can see it realised by supporting world-leading research in medicine, the natural environment and future industries.”
Fellow of UOW, 2016
Bachelor of Commerce (Economics), 1991
Master of Strategic Management, 2005