About Senate

Senate history: 1849 - the present

Information about significant legislation relating to Senate and its history can be accessed below:


1849 - 1860

William Charles Wentworth advocated a university for Sydney in a speech to Parliament – 1849:

On 4 September 1849, William Charles Wentworth presented a petition to the Legislative Council from a majority of the proprietors of the Sydney College praying for the adoption of a measure to convert the College into a University.

Read what happened.

The Act of Incorporation 1850:

The University was incorporated by an Act of the Legislature of New South Wales - the Act to Encorporate and Endow the University of Sydney - on 1 October 1850 and was the first university to be established in Australasia. The University of Sydney was established in 1850 to promote useful knowledge and to encourage the residents of New South Wales to pursue a regular course of liberal education.

View the Act to Encorporate and Endow the University of Sydney

The government of the University is provided for by the appointment of a Senate of Sixteen Fellows (four of whom may be clergymen). A Provost and Vice-Provost are to be chosen by the fellows out of their own body. Vacancies in the Senate are to be filled up by the remaining fellows, until there are one hundred graduates entitled as Masters of Arts, &c, to vote, when the vacancies as they occur will be filled up by the graduates themselves, duly convened in convocation.

In addition to the entire management of the educational and financial affairs of the University, the Senate has power to make by-laws as to discipline, degrees, honours, &c, which when duly approved of by the Governor and Executive Council, have the force of law. It has also authority to confer the degrees of Bachelor and Master of Arts, and Bachelor and Doctor of Laws and Medicine.

A Proclamation appointing the original Senate – 1850:

A Proclamation by His Excellency Sir Charles Augustus Fitz Roy, Knight Companion of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the Territory of New South Wales, dated 24 December 1850, announced the appointment of the original Senate.

The Proclamation was published in the New South Wales Government Gazette dated 24 December 1850.

Read about the original 16 Fellows of Senate.

First meeting of Senate – 1851:

The first meeting of Fellows of Senate took place in the Chambers of the Speaker of the Legislative Council on 3 February 1851 at 12 o’clock noon and was attended by; Boyce, Donaldson, Davis, Merewether, Nicholson, O’Brien, Plunkett, Purves, Therry, Deas-Thomson and Wentworth. The main business of the meeting was to determine the agenda for the next meeting. The meeting was then adjourned until 3 March 1851.

Read the full minutes of the first meeting.
Read comments and information by Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn about this first meeting.

Inauguration ceremony for the University of Sydney – 1852:

An inauguration ceremony for the University of Sydney was held on 11 October 1852 in the Hall of the former Sydney College in College Street. Vice-Provost Sir Charles Nicholson delivered the inaugural address. It was followed by lectures for the first 24 students in the former Sydney College building in College Street.


1861 - 1899

Amendment of the Act of Incorporation – 1861:

Under the Sydney University Incorporation Act Amendment Act, 1861, sections 5 and 7 of the Act of Incorporation, relating to there having to be one hundred graduates of Doctor or Master status to elect the Fellows of the Senate, were repealed. Senate was enlarged by not less than three and not more than six ex-officio members selected by the Senate by by-law from among the Professors of the University. The Professors, Public Teachers, Examiners and Superior Officers of the University, along with the Principals of the Incorporated Colleges were declared Members of the University for the duration of their tenure, and were granted the same privileges as Graduates with degrees of Master of Arts or Doctor of Laws or Medicine, namely in Convocation, 'attending and voting at the election of Fellows'.

The titles of Provost and Vice-Provost were also altered to Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, although there was no change to their respective offices.

Amendment of the Act of Incorporation – 1881:

Under the Ad eundem Degrees Act, 1881, allowed the Senate at their discretion to confer degrees without examination and also provided that Bachelors of Arts of three years standing in the University and fully 21 years old, should 'have the privilege of attending and voting at the election of Fellows'.

Amendment of the Act of Incorporation – 1884:

The University Extension Act, 1884, empowered the Senate to give instruction and grant degrees and certificates in all branches of knowledge except Theology or Divinity, provided that the benefits and advantages of the University should extend in all respects to women equally with men, and extended the same rights and privileges to all degrees of equivalent rank to the Bachelor of Arts degree.


1900 - 1989

University and University Colleges Act 1900 replaced the Act of Incorporation and existed until 1989:

The Act of incorporation 1850 was amended by subsequent Acts enlarging the scope of the University and the whole were consolidated in the University and University Colleges Act 1900.

Under the University and University Colleges Act 1900, the composition of Senate was as follows:

(a) sixteen elected Fellows who shall be elected as herein after provided, and of whom at least twelve shall be laymen; and

(b) not fewer than three nor more than six ex-officio Fellows, who shall be Professors of the said University in such branches of learning as the Senate shall from time to time by any by-law select.


The Senate shall elect out of their own body, by a majority of votes, a Chancellor of the University, who shall hold office for such period as the Senate shall from time to time appoint.

The Senate shall annually, on a day of which due notice has been given, elect out of their own body a Vice-Chancellor of the University, who shall hold office for one year.

A quorum was now constituted by either five Fellows, including the Chancellor or the Vice-Chancellor, or in their absence, by eight Fellows.

Amendment of the University and University Colleges Act – 1912:

The Amendment Act of 1912 re-constituted the Senate which was to consist of:

four Fellows appointed by the Governor, two Fellows elected one by each House of Parliament, the Chairman of the Professorial Board and four Fellows elected one by each of four Faculties, ten Fellows elected by the Graduates, and three Fellows elected by the aforesaid Fellows.

The Fellows of the Senate were to hold office for five years, with the exception of the Chairman of the Professorial Board and the Fellows elected by the Faculties, who were to hold office for two years.

All retiring fellows were to be eligible for re-election.

The Act also allowed for the incumbent Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor to be Fellows of the Senate for life, and ruled that eight Fellows would form a quorum.

Amendment of the University and University Colleges Act – 1918:

The University (Senate) Amendment Act, 1918 allowed Fellows of the Senate to continue to hold office (from March) until a day to be proclaimed in the Gazette by the Governor.

Amendment of the University and University Colleges Act – 1924:

At its meeting on 24 April 1924, Senate considered a report from its committee that expressed the unanimous opinion of its members that "the University needed a Chief Executive Officer who should take over the whole working of the University and be styled "Vice-Chancellor" following the precedent of Oxford and Cambridge and most other English Universities" (Senate minutes).

After some additional suggestions by the Professorial Board which were adopted by Senate, the University's solicitor was asked to draft the necessary legislation to enable Parliament to give effect to the administrative changes. The subsequent Bill received Royal Assent on 12 December 1924.

The University and University Colleges Act 1900 (as amended) was amended by the University Amendment (Vice-Chancellor) Act, 1924, to provide for Senate to elect a Deputy Chancellor to fulfil the duties of the present elected Vice-Chancellor and to appoint a permanent executive officer to take over the duties of Warden, who would be styled Vice-Chancellor and who "shall have and exercise such powers, rights, duties and functions as may be prescribed by by-laws made by the Senate" (section 14 (1A)).

The new Vice-Chancellor was also to be a member of the Senate, consequently the number of Fellows of the Senate increased to twenty-five.

Sir Mungo William MacCallum was the first Vice-Chancellor appointed under the new executive arrangements, acting in the position from 1924 until 1928. Below is a photograph of Sir Mungo William MacCallum as Vice-Chancellor on the right in an academic procession, University of Sydney Archives:

Sir Mungo William MacCallum

Senate resolution amending Senate's constitution – 1936:

In May, 1936, the Senate approved there being a representative of the undergraduates on the Senate. Consequently, the twenty sixth Fellow of Senate was to be 'a graduate of the University of such standing, and who shall be elected, as may from time to time be prescribed by by-law made by the Senate, to be representative of the undergraduates of the University'.

Amendment of the University and University Colleges Act – 1936:

The Public Instruction (Amendment) Act 1936 detailed when the election of the Fellows from the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council should take place, and their terms of office.

Amendment of the University and University Colleges Act – 1973:

Under tha University and University Colleges (Amendment) Act 1973, the Senate was re-constituted to consist of:
(a) four Fellows appointed by the Governor;
(b) one Fellow elected by and from the members of the Legislative Council;
(c) one Fellow elected by and from the members of the Legislative Assembly;
(d) eight Fellows elected by and from such members of the full-time staff of the University as may be prescribed by the by-laws;
(e) ten Fellows elected from persons who are ineligible for election under paragraph (d) by persons who are graduates of the University;
(f) three Fellows elected from persons who are enrolled as candidates proceeding to a degree or diploma in the University and who are ineligible for election under paragraph (d) by persons who are enrolled as candidates proceeding to a degree or diploma in the University;
(g) one Fellow who shall be the person for the time being holding the office of Chancellor, where he is not otherwise a Fellow;
(h) one Fellow who shall be the person for the time being holding the office of Vice-Chancellor; and
(i) three Fellows elected by the other Fellows referred to in this sub-section.


The quorum was increased from eight to fourteen Fellows.

Amendment of the University and University Colleges Act – 1978:

The University and University Colleges (Constitution) Amendment Act, 1978, amended details relating to the election of a member of the Legislative Council as a Fellow of the Senate.

The main objects of the University and University Colleges (Amendment) Act, 1978, were:

(1) to enable certain members of staff with academic titles in such organisations as the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Child Health to participate in the election of Fellows of the Senate;
(2) to clarify the Senate's powers in relation to staff;
(3) to clarify the Senate's power to levy fees and charges payable in respect of organisations of students or of students and other persons;
(4) to enable the University to acquire land by resumption or appropriation;
(5) to provide that various functions performed previously by the Governor be performed by the Minister (of Education).


Four Fellows were to be appointed by the Minister.

Amendment of the University and University Colleges Act – 1986:

The University and University Colleges (Amendment) Act, 1986, brought into force several changes in the constitution of the Senate.

The number of Fellows appointed by the Minister for Education was increased to six, and from 1 March 1986, the category of Fellow elected by the Fellows disappeared. The Act also reduced from four to three the number of consecutive meetings from which a Fellow could be absent without leave before having been deemed to have vacated office.

From 1 January, 1988, the Chairman of the Academic Board became a Fellow by virtue of his office, six Fellows were elected by and from the academic staff (at least two professors and at least two non-professors), one Fellow was elected by and from the general staff, and three Fellows were elected by and from the students (at least one an undergraduate and at least one a post-graduate).

Senate's constitution in 1989:

The composition of Senate in 1989, immediately prior to the repeal of the University and University Colleges Act 1900, was as follows (Clause 7(1)):

(a) four Fellows appointed by the Minister;
(b) one Fellow elected by and from the members of the Legislative Council;
(c) one Fellow elected by and from the members of the Legislative Assembly;
(d) eight Fellows elected by and from such members of the full-time staff of the University as may be prescribed by the By-laws;
(e) ten Fellows elected from persons who are ineligible for election under paragraph (d) by persons who are graduates of the University;
(f) three Fellows elected from persons who are enrolled as candidates proceeding to a degree or diploma in the University and who are ineligible for election under paragraph (d) by persons who are enrolled as candidates proceeding to a degree or diploma in the University;
(g) one Fellow who shall be the person for the time being holding the office of Chancellor, where he is not otherwise a Fellow;
(h) one Fellow who shall be the person for the time being holding the office of Vice-Chancellor; and
(i) three Fellows elected by the other Fellows referred to in this subsection.


1990 - present

The University of Sydney Act 1989 replaced the University and University Colleges Act and came into effect on 1 January 1990:

The University of Sydney Act 1989 replaced the University and University Colleges Act 1900 (as amended) and came into effect on 1 January 1990.

The Act terminated the office of all Fellows of Senate (excepting the Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor) on 31 December 1989, whether or not their terms of office had expired. A smaller Senate of 22 Fellows took office from 1 January 1990.

In 1990 the constitution of Senate (Clause 9) was:

(1) (a) parliamentary members;
(b) official members;
(c) appointed members; and
(d) elected members.

(2) The parliamentary members comprise:
(a) one Member of the Legislative Council elected by that Council:
(i) as soon as practicable after the commencement of this section and thereafter as soon as practicable after each periodic Council election within the meaning of section 3 of the Constitution Act 1902; or
(ii) if there is a casual vacancy in the office of that member of the Senate, as soon as practicable after that office becomes vacant; and
(b) one Member of the Legislative Assembly elected by that Assembly:
(i) as soon as practicable after the commencement of this section and thereafter as soon as practicable after each general election of Members of the Legislative Assembly; or
(ii) if there is a casual vacancy in the office of that member of the Senate, as soon as practicable after that office becomes vacant.

(3) The official members comprise:
(a) the Chancellor (if the Chancellor is not otherwise a member of the Senate);
(b) the Vice-Chancellor; and
(c) the person for the time being holding the office of:
(i) presiding member of the Academic Board (if that person is not the Vice-Chancellor); or
(ii) deputy presiding member of the Academic Board (if the presiding member is the Vice-Chancellor).

(4) The appointed members comprise four persons appointed by the Minister of whom one is to be appointed on the nomination of Senate.

(5) The elected members comprise:
(a) four persons:
(i) who are members of the academic staff of the University;
(ii) who have such qualifications as may be prescribed by the by-laws; and
(iii) who are elected by members of the academic staff of the University in the manner prescribed by the by-laws;
(b) one person:
(i) who is a member of the non-academic staff of the University;
(ii) who has such qualifications as may be prescribed by the by-laws; and
(iii) who is elected by members of the non-academic staff of the University in the manner prescribed by the by-laws;
(c) one person:
(i) who is an undergraduate student of the University but who is not a member of the academic or non-academic staff of the University;
(ii) who has such qualifications as may be prescribed by the by-laws; and
(iii) who is elected by undergraduate students of the University in the manner prescribed by the by-laws;
(d) one person:
(i) who is a postgraduate student of the University but who is not a member of the academic or non-academic staff of the University;
(ii) who has such qualifications as may be prescribed by the by-laws; and
(iii) who is elected by postgraduate students of the University in the manner prescribed by the by-laws; and
(e) five persons:
(i) who are graduates of the University (but who are not members of the academic or non-academic staff of the University having the qualifications referred to in paragraph (a) (ii) or (b) (ii) or undergraduate or postgraduate students of the University having the qualifications referred to in paragraph (c) (ii) or (d) (ii));
(ii) who have such qualifications as may be prescribed by the by-laws; and
(iii) who are elected by graduates of the University in the manner prescribed by the by-laws.

(6) The Senate may appoint any other person to be a member of the Senate and the person, on being appointed, is to be taken to be an appointed member of the Senate in addition to the members appointed under subsection (4).

(7) No more than one person may hold office at any one time as an appointed member under subsection (6).

The new University of Sydney By-law 1999:

The By-laws of the University of Sydney were repealed and replaced by the University of Sydney By-law 1999.

Amendment of the University of Sydney By-law – 2001:

A new By-law relating to the positions of Chancellor and Deputy Chancellor was introduced to allow for the dismissal of the Chancellor (or Deputy Chancellor) if that person did not retain the confidence of the Senate.

Amendment of the University of Sydney Act – 2004:

The University of Sydney Act 1989 (as amended) was amended in December 2004. Under the University Legislation Amendment Act, 2004, Senate comprises 22 Fellows of Senate as follows (Clause 9), who hold office for differing periods under various categories of membership:

Official members:
- Chancellor (if not already a Fellow)
- Vice-Chancellor and Principal
- Chair of the Academic Board

Appointed Fellows:
- Six external persons appointed by the Minister, one of whom is nominated by the Senate for appointment, otherwise than pursuant to subsection 9(2). (Subsection 9(2) provides that the Minister may appoint a person who is a member of the Parliament of New South Wales under subsection 9(1)(b) but only if the person is nominated by the Senate for appointment. No more than 2 such persons may hold office at any one time as appointed members under subsection 9(1)(b).)
- One external person appointed by the Senate

Elected Fellows:
- Four persons elected by and from the academic staff of the University
- One person elected by and from the non-academic staff of the University
- One person elected by and from the undergraduate students of the University
- One person elected by and from the postgraduate students of the University
- Five external persons elected by and from the graduates of the University.


Of the members of the Senate:
(a) at least 2 must have financial expertise (as demonstrated by relevant qualifications and by experience in financial management at a senior level in the public or private sector), and
(b) at least one must have commercial expertise (as demonstrated by relevant experience at a senior level in the public or private sector).

All appointed members of the Senate must have expertise and experience relevant to the functions exercisable by the Senate and an appreciation of the object, values, functions and activities of the University.

The majority of members of the Senate must be external persons.

View the current Fellows of Senate

The current University of Sydney Act 1989 (as amended)

View the current University of Sydney Act 1989 (as amended) here

The current University of Sydney By-law 1999 (as amended)

View the current University of Sydney By-law 1999 (as amended) here.