Our history

From its beginnings in 1850, the University of Sydney was created as an institution to suit the needs of New South Wales, not simply reflect England's ancient universities. A founding principle was that academic merit alone regardless of religious beliefs or social upbringing would be the test for admission. We can make a strong claim to being the first university in the world to admit male students purely on the basis of academic merit. In the 1880s we were also among the first to admit women on the same basis as men.

These pages provide a brief overview of the history of the University of Sydney and some of the major figures of our history, including those who studied here and went on to have a major impact after graduating.

Our founders recognised the power of education to change society. We hold that belief just as strongly today.

Sydney, the Making of a Public University

The images and captions below are taken from Sydney, the Making of a Public University, a book published in 2012 by two of our academics, Julia Horne and Geoffrey Sherington, with photographic text by Roderick Campbell. This new history tells the story of the University of Sydney as a secular institution serving the public interest and one of Australia’s earliest hubs of philanthropy and social inclusion. Find out more about the book and where you can buy it.

Do you have any stories about these photos, or can you identify anyone pictured? The University Historian would be very interested to hear from you if so.