The University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia are one step closer to a long-proposed merger after agreeing to conduct a feasibility study and business case for a combined university which would be operational from January 2026.

On Wednesday, the two South Australian universities announced they had already agreed to call the new institution Adelaide University.

The merger would make the combined universities the country’s largest with some 70,000 students and 3,100 staff.

Flinders University will remain independent.

In an email to staff and students, University of Adelaide Chancellor Catherine Branson said the new mega university would “possess the scale necessary to sustain a Top 100 university ranking”.

“Our intention is that this university be dedicated to ensuring the prosperity, well-being, and cohesion of society by addressing educational inequality – through its actions and through the success and impact of its students, staff and alumni,” she said.

“Partnered with the communities it serves, it will conduct outstanding future-making research of scale and focus.”

University of South Australia Chancellor Pauline Carr said the merger presents “a unique opportunity” to redefine higher education in the state.

“While no decision has yet been made, we acknowledge that the creation of this new university would take considerable time, with some significant steps to be taken along the way,” she said.

“We still have a detailed feasibility study and business case to progress, as well as regulatory and legal requirements to navigate.”

Both universities will be holding out their hands to the state and federal governments for money to get the merger over the line.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas went into the March state election promising to establish a university merger commission to get the process underway.

Now that both universities have agreed come to the table with the government, that commission may not be necessary.

“The creation of a university for the future would put South Australia at the forefront of education in Australia, with a truly globally-competitive tertiary education institution,” Malinauskas said in a statement.

“The combined university would make South Australia a magnet for domestic and international students and a global leader in research – unlocking incredible benefits for our state’s economy.”

The University of South Australia was formed in 1991 with the merger of the South Australian Institute of Technology and the South Australian College of Advanced Education.

The University of Adelaide was established in 1874 and is one of the oldest universities in the country.