Historic move as Woolcock splits from Sydney University


By Geir O'Rourke

31 Oct 2022

The prestigious Woolcock sleep and respiratory centre is splitting from the University of Sydney for the first time in its 41-year history, after the university sold its building to developers.

Home to more than 200 researchers, the Woolcock Institute for Medical Research will officially end its affiliation in March, with Macquarie University becoming the institute’s primary partner at the same time.

Its offices, labs and clinical services, which see more than 250 patients per week and conduct approximately 2,000 sleep studies a year, will move to the university’s health campus at Macquarie Park by April 2024.

The move comes after the University of Sydney sold the Woolcock’s six-storey building in Glebe for $39 million last November as part of efforts to raise cash during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reports at the time said a “high net worth Sydney family” had purchased the facility and agreed to honour the remainder of Woolcock’s $589,000 annual lease (link here).

But they had also indicated it would not be extended beyond 2024, so the centre was forced to look elsewhere for a new home, said the Woolcock’s executive director Professor Carol Armour.

“We spoke to the university but their plans were different and involved opportunities for other medical research institutes,” she told the limbic.

“And meanwhile, Macquarie was incredibly interested in talking to us.”

Professor Armour stressed there would be no interruptions to the institute’s research or its patient care in the short term, although behind the scenes administration support would come from Macquarie University as of April.

The finer details were currently up in the air but Macquarie had also indicated it would support the Woolcock’s extensive presence in Vietnam, she said.

As for the Sydney staff and researchers, they would have 18 months to prepare for the move over the bridge.

“We are giving them plenty of notice and the staff know the building had been sold and we had no accommodation,” Professor Armour said.

“So they are very excited about the opportunity to work with a university that is very go ahead and will offer us new opportunities.”

“Macquarie has quite a well developed respiratory unit that we can integrate with quite quickly and they’ve got quite a big dementia unit. They’re less well developed in sleep but we’re looking forward to the opportunities there.”

She also denied there would be any loss of prestige with the disaffiliation from Sydney, Australia’s oldest university.

“In fact some of the staff from Sydney will move with us to Macquarie. So the people that are best in the world at what they do will move to Macquarie.”

The Woolcock is named after respiratory physician Professor Ann Woolcock of the University of Sydney who founded the Institute of Respiratory Medicine at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1985. The institute was renamed in memory of her, following her death in 2001.

The University of Sydney said in a statement: “Last week the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research advised us they will not renew our affiliation agreement when it expires next March, and of their new academic partnership with Macquarie University.”

“While this was not our decision, we agree it is an appropriate move and wish our colleagues at the Woolcock the best with their future endeavours. We also look forward to collaborating with the Woolcock and Macquarie University on research projects of mutual interest in the future.”

“We will continue to support our ongoing respiratory research programs, which will not be affected by the Woolcock’s decision.”

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