Adelaide-born Sir Howard Walter Florey (1898 - 1968) was the force behind the development of penicillin for therapeutic purposes, an achievement that ushered in the age of antibiotics and in 1945 earned him a Nobel Prize. Having been involved in discussions since 1944, from 1947 he was a key member of the Academic Advisory Committee.
Florey explained that the primary object of the Easter Conference was 'in a nutshell, to dispel . . . a fairly widespread and justified distrust [that a national university] will rob [State universities] of your young men.’ He assured the meeting that State universities and the Interim Council would not go on a ‘nest-robbing’ expedition.
The main problems with the existing system were lack of finance and what he referred to as the ‘hotch-potch’ nature of the six State universities and two Colleges. With only a few exceptions in particular departments, they were underfunded, understaffed, and unable to attract distinguished research workers from overseas. By 1946, as the result of post-war demobilisation and the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, student numbers were increasing rapidly. ‘Just now’, he commented, ‘labs are bulging out of the doors’. He considered that detailed and sustained research was beyond the capacity of most State universities because ‘both professors and their staffs teach until their eyes drop out'. Florey chaired the Conference on Medical Research, a snapshot of current scientific and research institutions in Australia.