THE former Newcastle Courthouse will be turned into a campus for a Japanese university.
Three months after it sold at auction for $6.6 million, the buyer, Nihon University, has offered a glimpse of the building’s future, revealing that it wants to repurpose the old courthouse into its first international campus, with ambitions to host up to 200 local and international students at the site.
Kichibee Otuska, the university’s president, said details of the plan were still being hammered out but that the heritage-listed building would be restored to include classrooms for up to 200 local and international students, a library and a 100-bed dormitory.
He said “a wide range of options” were being considered for the campus “including students’ education, research, and staff training”.
“We also wish to cooperate and collaborate with other various parties including the people of Newcastle and educational institutions in Newcastle,” he said.
The former courthouse’s new owner has remained a mystery since it sold, with the Newcastle Herald reporting in December that lawyer Warren Boston was flanked by Japanese businessmen as he bid on their behalf at the auction.
Nihon University has 95,000 students and is the largest private tertiary provider in Japan.
Dr Otuska said it had chosen to open a campus in Australia because it was “a multicultural society with a high degree of understanding with regard to other cultures and a highly reputed world force in education”.
“Furthermore, the time difference between Japan and Australia is only slight, and travel between the two nations does not involve extremely long journeys,” he said.
He said Newcastle was “blessed with a splendid environment and a low crime rate, convincing us that it will prove to be an ideal place for our students and teaching staff to pursue their study and research in peace of mind”.
The international student economy is worth about $7.2 billion to the state’s economy – about a third of the sector’s total earnings in Australia – a figure experts predict will increase following the election of Donald Trump in the United States.
Trade Minister Niall Blair said he was “thrilled” Nihon had “chosen Newcastle”.
“The university will not only provide a boost to the economy but will also add to the cultural fabric of the community,” he said.
“Japan is NSW’s biggest export market and the largest source of investment from Asia.”
The news comes as the University of Newcastle continues to expand its presence in the city.
The New Space Building on Hunter Street is close to completion, and in December the NSW government announced the university had purchased two hectares of Honeysuckle and railway corridor land.
Dr Otuska said Nihon would announce more details on its plan “in due course” and that it was “[taking] time to compile our plan as well as to obtain permission for a non-Australian university to carry out activities in Australia”.
“Australia, with its superb universities, multicultural society and its respect for other cultures, was the natural choice for Nihon University,” he said.
“The city of Newcastle, its people and environment convinced us that it is the ideal place for our students and teaching staff to pursue their studies and research”.
Nihon University is working with the NSW Heritage Council to ensure the heritage value of the law courts is maintained in the building’s revitilisation.