THE appointment of Belinda Hutchinson as the chancellor at the University of Sydney has sparked fresh debate in the campus: how much business experience is too much?
The QBE chairwoman's appointment represents a break from the past, when Sydney University chancellors have usually been steeped in the academic world. Ms Hutchinson, who graduated in economics from the university in 1976, succeeds the NSW Governor and psychiatry professor, Marie Bashir, who stepped down from the role late last year.
Her counterpart at the University of NSW is Coca-Cola Amatil's chairman, David Gonski.
Ms Hutchinson said world-class tertiary education and research were critical to the nation's future and she was honoured to be elected to the position.
Alec Brennan, the chairman of Emeco Group and a fellow of the university senate which elected Ms Hutchinson, said her business expertise was an important factor. Higher education had to pay more and more attention to the bottom line, and "clearly there are a lot of business issues that need to be addressed in terms of mere survival".
"It is clearly necessary for whoever is chancellor to be able to understand and contribute to the working of a billion-and-a-half dollar business", Mr Brennan said.
But critics fear Ms Hutchinson's corporate credentials are evidence the university increasingly regards itself more as a business enterprise than a higher education institution.
"We are concerned that business is more important than education in the way the university is being run today" said Mr Michael Thomson, the Sydney University branch president of the academics union, the National Tertiary Education Union.
Ms Hutchinson resigned this week as the deputy chairwoman of the Centre for Independent Studies and from some other positions with not-for-profit groups to free time for the new role, a University of Sydney spokesman said. Ms Hutchinson was previously an executive director of Macquarie Group where she was the head of Macquarie Equity Capital Markets. She is a director of St Vincent's Health Australia, AGL Energy and the NSW State Library Foundation, among others.