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Developing a theologically-informed vision of excellence about any topic, such as Christian higher education, requires not only serious theological and empirical study but also two other important things: 1. Studying the topic’s history; 2. Making international comparisons. Regarding the latter, one of the wonderful things about doing international research in Christian higher education is that I have come across some insightful new examples and models from which we all can learn. I recently had that experience when I visited the University of Notre Dame in Australia (UNDA) in March of 2022 as part of a trip to study the remarkable emergence and growth of Australian Christian higher education over the past three decades. In this post, I summarize some lessons other Christian institutions could learn from UNDA.

To understand what makes UNDA unique, one must realize that Australia is the only continent on which the first universities were not Christian.1 In fact, Australia was the only continent not to have a Christian university until UNDA was “established by an Act of the Parliament of Western Australia, on 21 December 1989.”2 Like most recent Catholic universities in the United States, the institution was started not by an order but by Catholic laypeople.3 Today, it has three campuses in Broom, Freemantle, and Sydney with the main campus in Freemantle (adjacent to what is labeled the most isolated large city in the world, Perth).

The most important lesson Christian universities can learn from UNDA is how to set forth one’s Christian identity. On its website, the university specifies eight general ways it defines and demonstrates its Catholicity. First, the mission, or what they call the objects of the university, is clear in the prioritization of its Catholic identity over and above its academic identity and its emphasis upon multi-dimensional excellence in every sphere. The objects state the mission is:

  • the provision of university education, within a context of Catholic faith and values;
  • and the provision of an excellent standard of teaching, scholarship, and research; training for the professions; and pastoral care for its students

In this respect, the overall endeavor of the university is placed within the framework of the institution’s Catholic identity.

Of course, plenty of Christian institutions have strong mission statements, but UNDA adds two other elements related to what I call context and substance. First, beyond the mission statement, the website also specifies seven other university contexts where the Catholic identity matters such as

  • Through our canonical statute and diocesan agreements
  • Through our governance structures, and especially through the role of our Trustees
  • Through our Statutes and Rules
  • Through particular activities and programs directly supporting the role and work of the Church and its agencies
  • Through our role as a centre for Christian intellectual life
  • Through our international Catholic university relationships, especially with the University of Notre Dame in the United States
  • Through our physical facilities and images [e.g., crucifixes in every classroom and chapels on every campus].

In other words, they point out that the Catholic identity influences every dimension of the university and not simply a couple of contexts.

Second, the website also lists ten specific strategies and steps the institution uses to demonstrate its Catholic identity. One important thing to note when reading this list is that “staff” in Australia refers to faculty and administrative staff, not simply student life staff.

1. Having Schools of Philosophy & Theology that are central to the University’s academic mission, offering a compulsory Core Curriculum for all students, comprising units in philosophy, theology and ethics; being leading catalysts in developing and maintaining the University as a centre for Christian
intellectual life.

2. Recruiting “for mission”: selecting students and staff [which includes faulty and administrative positions] to build a Christian community which supports the Objects of the University.

3. Providing an academic development program in theology to be available to all staff, and encouraging lecturers to integrate discussion on ethical and faith issues into the curriculum in all Schools.

4. Supporting social justice education: through encouraging a spirit of volunteering, special curriculum options, “service-learning” programs and “service” internships, with a special focus on advancing First Nations peoples.

5. Encouraging a sense of community by actively supporting the Student Association and student clubs; promoting student involvement in sport, recreation, cultural activities and social life; encouraging social interaction and team building among staff.

6. Investing in an active Campus Ministry, and special religious initiatives, underpinning and promoting spiritual and liturgical life on and off campus for staff and students.

7.Emphasising pastoral care as central to university life and, in so doing, facilitating a university culture.

8. Being openly and unequivocally Catholic. Welcoming people of all faiths (and none at all) into the Notre Dame community; being clear about and proclaiming Notre Dame’s Christian faith underpinnings, and our integral membership of the Catholic Church.

9. Providing excellent standards of teaching, scholarship, research and professional training, and understanding that such excellence is fundamental to the very idea of a Catholic university.

10. Adopting policies which maximise graduation rates and the successful entry of alumni into their vocation or profession of choice.

I rarely see a Christian university set forth the substantive ways the Christian mission informs the whole life of the university with such clarity. I should note for North American readers that secular universities in Australia do not have a core or general education curriculum. Thus, #1 is a significant departure from the norm for an Australian university. Not surprisingly, all Christian universities and university colleges in Australia require this kind of core curriculum—a major counter-cultural endeavor.

Now one could argue that points 4, 5, and 10 are found on secular campuses as well. However, my visit and interview with Professor Selma Alliex, Pro Vice Chancellor of Student Experience also reinforced the Catholic nature of these endeavors. She noted the students and staff volunteer at Catholic organizations such as St. Patrick’s (a homeless shelter), the archbishop’s office and their different groups, St. John of God (the largest private healthcare provider in Australia), St. Vincent DePaul, and so on. She also noted, “the service-learning component is a compulsory component in two of our degrees – education and social justice.” Likewise, Alliex noted how the Catholic vision for social justice is what inspired the focus on advancing First Nations peoples by starting the extension campus at Broom where numerous First Nations reside. In her words, it was “purely a reconciliation campus with the Aboriginal people” All of the points together give the clear message of a coherent and specific vision for Catholic higher education from which many American Christian universities could learn.

In addition, I also encountered one other unique element that has inspired my recommendations in this area. UNDA was the first Christian institution I encountered that required a particular Christian course for all graduate students (a course on moral theology). This course served as the inspiration for one of my recent recommendations for Christian graduate programs in North America:

Practically, speaking, I recommend that every Christian university with graduate programs in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, or professions create at least one elective graduate course addressing “Christianity and the Sciences,” “Christianity and the Social Sciences,” “Christianity and the Humanities,” and “Christianity and the Professions.”

In this regard, although UNDA is a young institution, it can serve as a model for older Christian institutions that have not figured out how to engage in Christian graduate education.

I should note that UNDA has made its Christian witness clear in a culture that is not necessarily friendly to Christian higher education. The centralized Ministry of Education tightly controls many aspects of higher education such as accreditation and even whether you can use the name “university.”  One staff member in the medical field mentioned to me, “The first question the accreditors asked me was, ‘Is yours a medical school within the Catholic University? Or is it a Catholic medical school?’ Because certain medical procedures and things might be considered to be anti-Catholic such as stem cell research, terminations of pregnancies, all those kinds of things.” Yet, despite concerns such as these from government bureaucrats, UNDA has been able to achieve the status of a top-ranked, government-funded Christian university within the three and a half decades of its existence all while being clear about its Christian witness. Christian educational leaders around the world can learn from them.


  1. Perry L. Glanzer, “The Recent Emergence of Australian Christian Higher Education Institutions: How They Operationalize Their Christian Identity,” Christian Higher Education,
  2. accessed on March 13, 2024.
  3. Perry L. Glanzer, Theodore F. Cockle, and Jessica Martin, Christian Higher Education: An Empirical Guide (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2023).

Perry L. Glanzer

Baylor University
Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.


  • The University of Notre Dame in Australia provides an excellent case example for Christian higher education on multiple continents. Thank you, Perry, for this blog.

  • Thanks for this review. I teach in the secondary half of a Christian K-12 school in Perth, Western Australia. In common with other Christian schools, we have a requirement for biblical studies from Years 7 through to 12. One of my concerns is whether students can maintain their faith in an aggressively non-religious university life.
    Next time you’re in Western Australia, I would live to show you my school as an example of the work Christian K-12 schools are doing to help build for the Kingdom.