Alum and Senior Fellow of Trinity College, Tony Buzzard (TC 1960), tells of how Trinity’s international school came into being, and the many challenges faced to get there.
‘Trinity was broke.’
That’s Tony Buzzard’s blunt, if not slightly bleak, assessment of Trinity's finances in the 1980s. While it's an assessment not universally acknowledged, the College’s financial situation was challenging, and the establishment of Trinity's Foundation Studies program was part of the solution. Tony, as a Trinity College Council member, was privy to Trinity’s economic situation in the '80s and, along with members of the finance committee of the time, played a vital role in developing a solution: the establishment of an international school, which would go on to be known as the Trinity Education Centre.
Tony, who still practices as a consulting medical specialist, had spent time teaching and working as a doctor in South East Asia, and through his observations and local contacts, knew that Asian students had a strong appetite for education. From Tony’s perspective, finding a way to tap into this made sense.
Along with a number of other options, the idea of embracing international education at Trinity was mulled over by the council (which predated the yet to be formed board), but naturally, there were many concerns. ‘Firstly, the council said that they wanted to be sure there was no financial risk because there was no money, so I said that I would arrange for a series of guarantors,’ remembers Tony. ‘Secondly, the council was concerned that this would take the warden of the day, Evan Burge, away from his normal duties, so, I said “Okay, I’ll run it.”’
Promising to keep Warden Burge informed of the goings on of the project at all times, Tony set about putting his idea into motion. ‘I got a board of people together to look after the whole thing. I chaired this board, but, on it, we had top rate businesspeople.’ To Tony, it was the collective skill and dedication of this group that made the program work.
Despite his committed team of allies and a gradual gain of support amongst other stakeholders, Tony admits many of his ideas weren’t popular. Fundraisers weren’t happy that donors were putting money into guarantees instead of existing Trinity programs (though, it should be said that the guarantors were never called upon), and his daily pre-work calls to Evan Burge didn’t mesh particularly well with family time for him or the warden. Nevertheless, Burge was incredibly supportive, and Tony is adamant that without the warden’s unwavering support (and that of then-University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Pennington), the program we now know as Foundation Studies never would have existed.
As the program began to take root, Evan Burge was sent on a fact-finding mission to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong to further refine Trinity’s plan to attract international students to its new school. ‘That was interesting, because he was the Warden of Trinity College, but the term ‘warden’ is frequently associated with jails, so we renamed him the president and got him visiting cards with embossed writing, which is popular in South East Asia,’ remembers Tony. The trip, and cards, were a success and Burge came back even more enthusiastic about Trinity’s ambitious project.
‘Another major turning point was when we got Denis White on board as executive director,’ says Tony, who still catches up with his former colleague, of whom he speaks very highly (we’ll hear from Denis later in this series). Tony has also remained friends with a number of other stakeholders who were instrumental in the establishment of Trinity’s international school (now Pathways School), including Rob Clemente (‘an absolutely brilliant businessman’), and it’s clear that the project was a strong team effort fuelled by the shared vision of many dedicated individuals. ‘One of the things we were always keen to do was make sure that we were all about standards,’ says Tony, referencing the group’s commitment to building a premium product from the outset, despite the many challenges that lay along the way. ‘It really was a rough time; we took all sorts of risks,’ Tony acknowledges. But it paid off in the end and Tony can’t help but feel a deep sense of pride.
‘From my perspective, it was probably the most significant thing I've done with my life.’