Murdoch College axes plan for Perth CBD campus and pulls out of Metropolis Deal mission

Murdoch University has scrapped its plan for a multi-million dollar inner-city vertical campus that had been a central plank of the highly touted Perth City Deal.

Key points:

  • Murdoch says it has shelved the CBD campus after reviewing its priorities
  • Premier Mark McGowan says the university did not ask for extra funding
  • Edith Cowan University needed more funding for its Perth City Deal campus

The Murdoch project, which was estimated to cost $250 million and set to inject more than 10,000 students to the CBD, has been abandoned due to the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university said.

“While the CBD campus had merit, the impact of COVID on the University’s finances required us to review our priorities and it was necessary to advise the Government at the earliest opportunity that the University would be unable to progress the CBD campus,” a Murdoch spokesperson said.

Murdoch said it would instead focus on the construction of a new building at its South Street campus in Perth’s southern suburbs.

Speaking at budget estimates on Monday, WA’s Education Minister Sue Ellery said the state government was disappointed Murdoch had pulled out of the Perth City Deal.

The Perth City Deal is aimed at bringing jobs, tourists, students and vibrancy to the city.(ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

“The proposal was predicated on an increase in international students. Given the impact of COVID-19, Murdoch has reconsidered its proposal,” she said.

“That is disappointing to the government.”

‘They couldn’t make it work’: McGowan

Premier Mark McGowan said the state government had invested $41 million in programs that would help bring international students back to universities.

“The two years of closed international borders was a Commonwealth government decision which I supported,” he told ABC Perth.

Premier Mark McGowan says Edith Cowan University is still moving into the city.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

He said Murdoch University did not ask the state government for extra money.

“They couldn’t make it work,” he said.

“Murdoch University’s made that decision but just remember we’ve got Edith Cowan’s WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) coming into the city.”

ECU City campus artist impression Edith Cowan University has received state and federal funding for a new CBD campus.(Supplied: Edith Cowan University)

Edith Cowan University (ECU) is planning an $853 million new inner-city campus as part of the Perth City Deal, with the campus expected to attract more than 10,000 students and staff when it opens in 2025.

That project received a $98 million government funding boost earlier this year.

City Deal will invigorate CBD: government

The Perth City Deal is a jointly funded $1.7 billion project between the state, federal and local governments, aimed at bringing jobs, tourists, students and vibrancy to the city.

A shot of the back of a university student walking on the streets of Melbourne. Murdoch’s decision is a blow to the expected influx of students for Perth’s city centre.(ABC News: Mark Farnell)

As part of the deal, redevelopments of the Concert Hall, Cultural Center and WACA Ground are scheduled to be completed over the next few years.

Alongside redevelopments and new infrastructure projects, three WA universities were planned to set up inner-city campuses, bringing tens of thousands of students and staff to CBD.

The WA government had originally committed $50 million towards campuses for Murdoch and Curtin and $150 million towards ECU’s significantly larger proposal.

But since then, cost blowouts on the ECU campus have led to extra funds being committed by both state and federal governments.

Ms Ellery told parliament the money the government initially committed to Murdoch would now go towards the ECU campus.

“Edith Cowan University’s inner-city campus was facing significant cost escalation pressures,” she said.

“The state government worked with the previous commonwealth government to address those issues.”