Our History

The History of The Kensington Colleges

1967 Basser and Goldstein

Work began on the construction of the first of The Kensington Colleges, Basser College, in 1957 - less than a decade after the establishment of the New South Wales University of Technology (renamed in 1958 as the University of New South Wales) at Ultimo in 1949. In the early 1950s, the University moved to its current Kensington site which had once been a racecourse and also had been used as a military camp and migrant hostel. It was on this site that soldiers camped prior to departing for the Gallipoli landing in April 1915. The Colleges are part of a precinct that includes the old totalisator building for the racecourse - one of the buildings which gave birth to NIDA and the Old Tote Theatre (now the Sydney Theatre) Company.

With increasing demand for student accommodation in the 1950s, the mainly timber and fibro huts of the migrant hostel came to be used as a student hostel. However, in much the same way as many argued it was important for the University to have Faculties of Arts, Medicine & Law, it was felt important to have residential colleges similar to those at the older Australian universities. Such colleges provided academic and personal support, opportunities for intellectual engagement and student leadership, as well as a range of social, sporting and cultural activities.

Basser Steps 1967

Adolf Basser, a Polish migrant, optician, jeweller and philanthropist, donated a significant portion of the sum required to build the University's first College. He also made major donations to medical and research institutions, and was, for example, responsible for providing the first computer at Sydney University. Basser College was designed by Professor Neville Anderson of the School of Architecture, and was opened by the Governor-General, Field Marshal Sir William Slim, on 1 July 1959. The first Master of the College was Dr Malcolm McKay, previously Minister of Scots Church, Sydney, who later became Minister for the Navy in the McMahon government.

The Kensington Colleges Ltd was a company set up by the University in the early 1960s to receive newly available Commonwealth government funds for universities and colleges, and to administer the Colleges established by the University, including Basser College. Dr George Wheen was appointed Master of The Kensington Colleges in 1964, a position he held for a short time until his death in 1966. The second College, named after philanthropist Philip Goldstein, was opened by the NSW Premier, J. B. Renshaw, on 30 June 1964. In addition to the two halls of residence, dedicated in the early years particularly to women students and postgraduates, Goldstein College included a separate large dining hall to be used by all TKC residents. Designed by Government Architect, E. H. Farmer, assisted by Peter Hall (who later succeeded Joern Utzon as supervising architect for the construction of the Sydney Opera House), the Dining Hall building won the prestigious Sulman Award for architecture in 1965. A sculpture of six figures, designed by noted Australian sculptor Bert Flugelman, stands in the Goldstein courtyard. The first Warden of Goldstein College was Miss Lillian Livingstone.

Baxter C Block Lawn 1967

Philip Baxter College, the largest of the three Kensington Colleges and named after the University's first Vice-Chancellor, was opened by the Minister responsible for education and research (later Prime Minister) John Gorton on 14 October 1966. Also designed by the NSW Government Architect, the College comprises three connected wings enclosing a north-facing lawn. The first Warden was Professor E. P. George, who held the position until his retirement in 1979.

International House and the independent colleges founded by religious groups and affiliated with the University (New, Warrane, Creston & Shalom Colleges) were opened in the late 1960s/ early 1970s.

The Kensington Colleges have been home to a number of distinguished alumni, including former Vice-Chancellor, John Niland, and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Chris Fell (Basser); former Deputy Chancellor, Jessica Milner-Davis, and Scientia Professor Robert Clark (Goldstein); and Rhodes Scholar, Elizabeth Stone, and former Rugby Wallabies Captain, Simon Poidevin (Philip Baxter).

Baxter Room 1967

In 1998, the Kensington Colleges Company was dissolved, with the University assuming direct management. From 2001, management was exercised through the University Housing Office, and most recently the Colleges have formed part of a larger grouping of all UNSW owned and operated accommodation, UNSW Residential Communities within the Division of University Services.

The redevelopment and expansion of the Colleges took place between 2011-2013 and the new facilities were opened to much acclaim in Semester 1, 2014. The expanded Kensington Colleges now also have three sister residential colleges - Colombo House, named in acknowledgement of the pioneering student residents who made their home in Basser College under the Colombo Plan in the 1950's and 60's; Fig Tree Hall, a destination residence for a diverse group of students from around Australia and around the world seeking male and female only residential floors and an alcohol free environment; and UNSW Hall (previously the Philip Baxter facility). Areas within the college were renovated in 2014 and a mix of postgraduate, undergraduate and Foundation Studies students now make 'The Hall' their home.

Each college has a Dean and Resident Fellows living in among the students and all six colleges are under the overall leadership of the Head, UNSW Colleges.