Paul Thomas knew the figures didn’t add up from the moment he took the temporary job of planning a new university on the Sunshine Coast in 1994. Staff hired: zero. Students enrolled: zero. Buildings on campus: zero. Little money and even less time.
But the soon-to-be University of the Sunshine Coast was never about numbers. It was about people – the people who had fought for it for 20 years, the people about to make it happen, the people dedicated to its growth, and the people who would benefit from its success.
Professor Thomas became so captivated by the institution’s potential that he stayed as its first leader for the next 16 years. “I fell in love with the place,” he recalled. “I started as planning president in March 1994 and I left as one of Australia’s longest-standing vice-chancellors in 2010.”
So how did the numbers add up in those early days?
‘University a milestone’ was the headline on an editorial that ran in local newspaper the Sunshine Coast Daily on 26 April 1996, exactly two months after the first 524 students walked into the two low-rise buildings on campus. It read:
“Today’s official opening of the Sunshine Coast University is a milestone in the development of the Sunshine Coast. It is difficult to imagine that there has been a more important or such a potentially beneficial project ever undertaken in our region. More than 300 people will attend today’s ceremony at which Governor Leneen Forde will declare the university open for business ... The university aspires to become a major national focus of academic and educational advancement. And it will. Of that there is no doubt. But many Sunshine Coasters will benefit simply by its proximity.”
The editorial pointed to the community already mushrooming around the campus at Sippy Downs and to expert predictions of a $1.4 billion injection into the regional economy over 15 years. It concluded:
“That is why the university was so worth fighting for over the last 20 years – and why we should all be so delighted that it is now a reality.”