University of Sydney

The University of Sydney (USYD, or informally Sydney Uni) is a public research university located in Sydney, Australia. Founded in 1850 as Australia's first university, it is regarded as one of the world's leading universities. The university is one of Australia's six sandstone universities. The university comprises eight academic faculties and university schools, through which it offers bachelor, master and doctoral degrees.

The QS World University Rankings ranked the university as one of the world's top 25 universities for academic reputation,[5] and top 4 in the world and first in Australia for graduate employability.[6] It is one of the first universities in the world to admit students solely on academic merit, and opened their doors to women on the same basis as men.[7]

Five Nobel and two Crafoord laureates have been affiliated with the university as graduates and faculty.[8] The university has educated seven Australian prime ministers, two governors-general of Australia, thirteen Premiers of New South Wales including incumbent Premier Dominic Perrottet, and 24 justices of the High Court of Australia, including four chief justices. The university has produced 110 Rhodes Scholars and 19 Gates Scholars.

The University of Sydney is a member of the Group of Eight, CEMS, the Association of Pacific Rim Universities and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

The University of Sydney as viewed from Parramatta Road in the early 1870s

In 1848, William Wentworth, a University of Cambridge graduate, and Sir Charles Nicholson, a graduate of medicine from the University of Edinburgh Medical School, proposed a plan to expand the existing Sydney College into a larger university in the New South Wales Legislative Council. Wentworth argued that a state secular university was imperative for the growth of a society aspiring towards self-government, and that it would provide the opportunity for "the child of every class, to become great and useful in the destinies of his country".[9] It would take two attempts on Wentworth's behalf before the plan was finally adopted.

The university was established via the passage of the University of Sydney Act 1850 (NSW) on 24 September 1850,[10] and was assented on 1 October 1850 by governor Sir Charles Fitzroy.[11] Two years later, the university was inaugurated on 11 October 1852 in the Big Schoolroom of what is now Sydney Grammar School. The first principal was John Woolley,[12] the first professor of chemistry and experimental physics was John Smith.[13] On 27 February 1858, the university received a royal charter from Queen Victoria, giving degrees conferred by the university rank and recognition equal to those given by universities in the United Kingdom.[14] By 1859, the university had moved to its current site in the Sydney suburb of Camperdown.

In 1858, the passage of the Electoral Act provided for the university to become a constituency for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as soon as there were 100 graduates of the university holding higher degrees eligible for candidacy. This seat in the New South Wales legislature was first filled in 1876, but was abolished in 1880, one year after its second member, Sir Edmund Barton, who later became the first Prime Minister of Australia, was elected to the Legislative Assembly.

Most of the estate of John Henry Challis was bequeathed to the university, which received a sum of £200,000 in 1889. This was thanks in part due to Sir William Montagu Manning (chancellor 1878–95) who argued against the claims by British tax commissioners. The following year, seven professorships were created in anatomy, zoology, engineering, history, law, logic and mental philosophy, and modern literature.

In 1924, the university awarded its first Doctor of Science in Engineering degree to John Bradfield. His thesis was titled "The City and Suburban Electric Railways and the Sydney Harbour Bridge". Bradfield would go on to be the lead engineer for the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.[15][16]

The university's professor of philosophy from 1927 to 1958, John Anderson, was a significant figure referred to as "Sydney's best known academic".[17] A native of Scotland, Anderson's controversial views as a self-proclaimed atheist and advocate of free thought in all subjects raised the ire of many, even to the point of being censured by the state legislature in 1943.[17]

The PhD research degree was first discussed in 1944, and began in 1947. The university awarded the first PhD in 1951 to William H. Wittrick from the Faculty of Engineering on 28 April 1951 and the next two were awarded to Eleanora C. Gyarfas and George F. Humphrey from the Faculty of Science on 2 May 1951.[18]

The New England University College was founded as part of the University of Sydney in 1938 and in 1954 was separated to become the University of New England.

During the late 1960s, the University of Sydney was at the centre of rows to introduce courses on Marxism and feminism at the major Australian universities. At one stage, newspaper reporters descended on the university to cover brawls, demonstrations, secret memos and a walk-out by David Armstrong, a philosopher who held the Challis Chair of Philosophy from 1959 to 1991, after students at one of his lectures openly demanded a course on feminism.[19] The philosophy department split over the issue into the Traditional and Modern Philosophy Department, headed by Armstrong and following a more traditional approach to philosophy, and the General Philosophy Department, which follows the French continental approach. The Builders Labourers Federation placed a ban on the university after two women tutors were not allowed to teach a course but the issue was quickly resolved internally.[20]

Under the terms of the Higher Education (Amalgamation) Act 1989 (NSW),[21] the following bodies were incorporated into the university in 1990:

The Orange Agricultural College (OAC) was originally transferred to the University of New England under the act, but then transferred to the University of Sydney in 1994, as part of the reforms to the University of New England undertaken by the University of New England Act 1993[22] and the Southern Cross University Act 1993.[23] In January 2005, the University of Sydney transferred the OAC to Charles Sturt University.

In February 2007, the university agreed to acquire a portion of the land granted to St John's College (a residential college of the university) to develop the Sydney Institute of Health and Medical Research, now the Charles Perkins Centre, named in honour of the first Indigenous Australian man to graduate from the university, Charles Perkins.[24][25]

In 2010, the university received a Pablo Picasso painting from the private collection of an anonymous donor. The painting, Jeune Fille Endormie, which had not been publicly seen since 1939, depicts the artist's lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter and was donated on the strict understanding that it would be sold and the proceeds directed to medical research.[26] In June 2011, the painting was auctioned at Christie's in London and sold for £13.5 million ($20.6 million AUD). The proceeds of the sale funded the establishment of many endowed professorial chairs at the Charles Perkins Centre, where a room dedicated to the painting, now exists.[27]

At the start of 2010, the university controversially adopted a new logo. It retains the same university arms, however it takes on a more modern look. There have been stylistic changes, the main one being the coat of arm's mantling, the shape of the escutcheon (shield), the removal of the motto scroll, and also others more subtle within the arms itself, such as the mane and fur of the lion, the number of lines in the open book and the colouration.[28] The original Coat of Arms from 1857 continues to be used for ceremonial and other formal purposes, such as on testamurs.[29][30]

Concerns about public funding for higher education were reflected again in 2014 following the federal government's proposal to deregulate student fees. The university held a wide-ranging consultation process, which included a "town hall meeting" at the university's Great Hall on 25 August 2014, where an audience of students, staff and alumni expressed deep concern about the government's plans and called on university leadership to lobby against the proposals.[31] Throughout 2014, Michael Spence took a leading position among Australian vice-chancellors in repeatedly calling for any change to funding to not undermine equitable access to university while arguing for fee deregulation to raise course costs for the majority of higher education students.[32][33]

In order to further enhance its competitiveness locally and internationally, the university introduced plans to consolidate existing degrees to reduce the overall number of programs in 2016.[34]

In 2001, the University of Sydney chancellor, Dame Leonie Kramer, was forced to resign by the university's governing body.[35] In 2003, Nick Greiner, a former Premier of New South Wales, resigned from his position as chair of the university's Graduate School of Management because of academic protests against his simultaneous chairmanship of British American Tobacco (Australia). Subsequently, his wife, Kathryn Greiner, resigned in protest from the two positions she held at the university as chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation and a member of the executive council of the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific.[36]

In 2005, the Public Service Association of New South Wales and the Community and Public Sector Union were in dispute with the university over a proposal to privatise security at the main campus (and the Cumberland campus).[37]

Action initiated by Spence to improve the financial sustainability of the university has alienated some students and staff.[38] In 2012, Spence led efforts to cut the university's expenditure to address the financial impact of a slowdown in international student enrolments across Australia. This included redundancies of a number of university staff and faculty, though some at the university argued that the institution should cut back on building programs instead.[39] Critics argue the push for savings has been driven by managerial incompetence and indifference,[38] fuelling industrial action during a round of enterprise bargaining in 2013 that also reflected widespread concerns about public funding for higher education.[40]

An internal staff survey in 2012/13, which found widespread dissatisfaction with how the university is being managed.[41] Asked to rate their level of agreement with a series of statements about the university, 19 per cent of those surveyed believed "change and innovation" were handled well by the university. In the survey, 75 per cent of university staff indicated senior executives were not listening to them, while only 22 per cent said change was handled well and 33 per cent said senior executives were good role models.[42]

In the first week of semester, some staff passed a motion of no confidence in Spence because of concerns he was pushing staff to improve the budget while he received a performance bonus of $155,000 that took his total pay to $1 million, in the top 0.1 per cent of income earners in Australia.[43] Fairfax reports Spence and other Uni bosses have salary packages worth ten times more than staff salaries and double that of the Prime Minister.[44]

During Spence's term, the university community was divided over allowing students from an elite private school, Scots College, to enter university via a "pathway of privilege" by means of enrolling in a Diploma of Tertiary Preparation rather than meeting HSC entry requirements.[45] The university charged students $12,000 to take the course and have since successfully admitted a number of students to degree courses. An exposé by Fairfax which turned out to be based on a misunderstanding as to VET and UAC matriculation standards, the scheme has been criticised by Phillip Heath, the national chairman of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia.[46]

An investigation by Fairfax in 2015 revealed widespread cheating at universities across NSW, including the University of Sydney.[47] The university established a taskforce on academic misconduct in April 2015 to maintain its leadership position in preventing incidences of cheating and academic misconduct.[48]

A 2016 investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation exposed corporate deals between the Veterinary Faculty and large pet food companies had resulted in the withholding of harmful cat food product tested to protect corporate sponsors.[49]

The Institute of Public Affairs’ third (2018) annual audit of free speech on Australian campuses has named the University of Sydney, the Australian National University and James Cook University as the most hostile to free speech based on measures that “aggregate (the) number of problematic policies and actions”.[50] An appendix, provided by the Institute of Public Affairs, listed 51 alleged incidents at 20 universities in which freedom of expression was said to have come under attack. The University of Sydney accounted for the largest share (19 out of 51 or 37%) of those alleged incidents. A national code to protect freedom of speech at universities has been endorsed by the federal government. It is intended to counter the risk of overreach by university administrators and aims to restrain rules that stifle opinions that some might consider unwelcome, offensive or even insulting.[51]

In the 2019 Student Experience Survey, the University of Sydney recorded the second lowest student satisfaction rating out of all Australian universities, and the second lowest student satisfaction rating out of all New South Wales universities, with an overall satisfaction rating of 74.2; this was lower than the national average rating of 78.4.[52][53]

The main campus has been ranked in the top 10 of the world's most beautiful universities by the British Daily Telegraph and the American Huffington Post, among others such as Oxford, and Cambridge and is spread across the inner-city suburbs of Camperdown and Darlington.[54][55]

Originally housed in what is now Sydney Grammar School, in 1855 the government granted land in Grose Farm to the university, three kilometres from the city, which is now the main Camperdown campus. In 1854, the architect Edmund Blacket accepted a senate invitation for the first buildings to be designed. In 1858 the Great Hall was finished, and in 1859 the Main Building was built. He composed the original Neo-Gothic sandstone Quadrangle and Great Tower buildings, which were completed in 1862.[56] The rapid expansion of the university in the mid-20th century resulted in the acquisition of land in Darlington across City Road. The Camperdown/Darlington campus houses the university's administrative headquarters, and the Faculties of Arts, Science, Education and Social Work, Pharmacy, Veterinary Science, Economics and Business, Architecture, and Engineering. It is also the home base of the large Sydney Medical School, which has numerous affiliated teaching hospitals across the state.

The main campus is also the focus of the university's student life, with the student-run University of Sydney Union (once referred to as "the Union", but now known as "the USU") in possession of three buildings – Wentworth, Manning and Holme Buildings. These buildings house a large proportion of the university's catering outlets, and provide space for recreational rooms, bars and function centres. One of the largest activities organised by the Union is Welcome Week (formerly Orientation Week or 'O-week'[57]), a three-day festival at the start of the academic year. Welcome Week centres on stalls set up by clubs and societies on the Front Lawns.

The main campus is home to a variety of statues, artworks, and monuments. These include the Gilgamesh Statue and the Confucius Statue.

Some other architects associated with the university were Walter Liberty Vernon, Walter Burley Griffin, Leslie Wilkinson, and the New South Wales Government Architect.[56] The building was designed in accordance with the university's masterplanning by the architect and founding dean of the university's architecture faculty Leslie Wilkinson, who himself was inspired by a previously unused masterplan developed for the campus by Walter Burley Griffin in 1915.[58]

The 2002 conservation plan of the university stated that the Main Building and Quadrangle, Anderson Stuart Building, Gate Lodges, St Paul's College, St John's College and St Andrew's College "comprise what is arguably the most important group of Gothic and Tudor Revival style architecture in Australia, and the landscape and grounds features associated with these buildings, including Victoria Park, contribute to and support the existence and appreciation of their architectural qualities and aesthetic significance."[56]

In 2015, The NSW Department of Planning and Environment endorsed The University of Sydney's $1.4 billion Campus Improvement Plan which involved a number of new important structures and renovations.[59]

As of 2016, the university is undertaking a large capital works program with the aim of revitalising the campus and providing more office, teaching and student space.[60] The program will see the amalgamation of the smaller science and technical libraries into a larger library, and the construction of a central administration and student services building along City Road. A new building for the School of Information Technologies opened in late 2006 and has been located on a site adjacent to the Seymour Centre. The busy Eastern Avenue thoroughfare has been transformed into a pedestrian plaza and a new footbridge has been built over City Road. The new home for the Sydney Law School, located alongside Fisher Library on the site of the old Edgeworth David and Stephen Roberts buildings, has been completed. The university opened a new building called "Abercrombie Building" for business school students in early 2016.

The NSW state government has reduced transport links to the old campus and the closest Redfern railway station leaving main access to buses on the neighbouring Parramatta Road and City Road, prioritising the growth at other Sydney universities.[61]

From 2007, the university has used space in the former Eveleigh railway yards, just to the south of Darlington, for examination purposes.

In 2018, New South Wales Minister for Heritage, Gabrielle Upton agreed to put the University of Sydney and some adjacent sites on the state heritage register, creating a conservation area that would include the Camperdown campus, and the nearby Victoria Park.[56]

The beginning of 2021 saw the closure of the Cumberland campus, with multiple health disciplines returning to the Camperdown campus in the state-of-the-art, purpose built Susan Wakil Health Building.[62]

The university also uses a number of other facilities for its teaching activities.

The University of Sydney Library consists of 11 individual libraries located across the university's various campuses. The Fisher and Health sciences libraries offer disability support services.[64] According to the library's publications, it is the largest academic library in the southern hemisphere;[65] university statistics show that in 2007 the collection consisted of just under 5 million physical volumes and a further 300,000 e-books, for a total of approximately 5.3 million items.[66] It is also the only university in Australia to be a state legal deposit library[67] according to the Copyright Act 1968 which stipulates that a copy of every printed material published in NSW be sent to the University Library. The Rare Books Library possesses several extremely rare items, including one of the two extant copies of the Gospel of Barnabas and a first edition of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

The Centre for Continuing Education is an adult education provider within the university. Extension lectures at the university were inaugurated in 1886,[68] 36 years after the university's founding, making it Australia's longest running university continuing education program.[69]

The Chau Chak Wing Museum showcases the university's art, natural history and antiquities collections. Located opposite the quadrangle buildings, the museum opened to the public in November 2020. It houses the Nicholson Collection of antiquities, the Macleay Collections of natural history, ethnography, science and photography, and the University Art Collection. The museum is named after Chau Chak Wing, a Chinese-Australian businessman and philanthropist.[70] In 2021, the Chau Chak Wing Museum won the Museums and Galleries National Award (MAGNA) and two Museums Australasia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards (MAPDA).[71]

The university has a number of halls of residence (based on research-lead living-learning principles) and residential colleges, each with its own distinctive style and facilities. All offer a wide range of cultural, social, sporting and leadership activities along with targeted academic support in a supportive communal environment. The Halls of Residence are owned and operated by the University Accommodation Service.[72] Starting in 2013, the university committed to creating the Halls of Residence (an additional 4,000-6,000 residential places) at an affordable price to enhance the educational experience of living on campus and to offer more students a rich academic environment in which to live.[73]

The University Student Accommodation Service were awarded the Asia-Pacific Student Housing Operation of the Year & Excellence in Facility Development and Management in 2016.[75]

The Student Accommodation Service and the Mana Yura Student Support Service were the first in Australia to implement an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander On-Campus Residence Halls Scholarship Guarantee.[73]

Affiliated with the university are six religiously denominated colleges. Unlike some residential colleges in British or American universities, the colleges are not affiliated with any specific discipline of study.

A quarter of the university's female students residing in university colleges have been found to face sexual harassment.[76] Between 2011 and 2016, there were 52 officially reported cases of sexual abuse and harassment on campus released by the university, resulting in 1 expulsion, 1 suspension and 4 reprimands.[77] This is less than the 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission report on sexual assault and harassment which found reported figures substantially higher than this.[78] 71% of students surveyed in 2017 reported not knowing how to make a report relating to sexual assault or harassment. Imogen Grant from the SRC said students who had experienced sexual assault had come forward believing that "navigating the university bureaucracy exacerbates trauma and often seems futile".[79] Previously a 2015 survey of 2000 students found that 57 per cent of respondents did not know where to seek help or how to report sexual misconduct at USYD, and only 1.4% of all serious sexual incidents are reported.[80] After the release of the 2017 report the vice-chancellor said the university was committed to implementing "all of the recommendations contained in the report".[79] Graphic videos emerged in 2018 of male students bragging of their sexual feats over the female students, particularly first-years.[81]

The five largest faculties and schools by 2020 student enrollments were (in descending order): Arts and Social Sciences; Medicine and Health; Business; Science; Engineering. Together they constituted nearly 88% of the university's students and each had a student enrolment over 8,000 (at least 13% of total students).[83]

The University of Sydney consistently ranks as one of the top universities in Australia

The 2022 QS World University Rankings ranked the University of Sydney at 38th in the world,[94] 2nd nationally and top-ranked university in New South Wales. In addition, it is ranked 27th in the world by academic reputation.[95] By subject, QS ranked the university in the top 50 across all five broad subject areas.[96]

Additionally, the University of Sydney is ranked 2nd in Sports-related Subjects, 10th in Anatomy & Physiology, 11th in Veterinary Science, 12th in Education, 14th in Law and Legal Studies, 15th in Nursing, 16th in Architecture, 18th in Accounting and Finance, 18th in English Language and Literature, 18th in Medicine and 18th in Pharmacy and Pharmacology.

The 2020 QS Graduate Employability Rankings ranked the University of Sydney graduates 4th most employable in the world and 1st in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.[97]

The 2021 Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranked the University of Sydney 51st in the world and 2nd in Australia.[98] By subject area, the university is ranked:

Additionally, the 2020 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings ranked the University of Sydney 51-60th most reputable in the world[99] and 35th in the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2020.[100] According to the 2020 Impact Rankings by Times Higher Education, the university is ranked 2nd in the world.[101]

The 2021 US News & World Report's Best Global Universities Rankings placed the University of Sydney 27th in the world and 2nd in Australia.[102] In the 2020 Academic Ranking of World Universities published by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, the University of Sydney is ranked 69th and in the top 0.7% of the top 1000 universities in the world.[103]

The University of Sydney is ranked 1st in Australia and 29th overall in the 2017 CWTS Leiden Rankings for research impact.[104] In 2019, the University of Sydney is ranked 33rd among the universities around the world by SCImago Institutions Rankings.[105] In 2019, by National Taiwan University, the University of Sydney is ranked 29th in the world, 2nd in Australia.[106] The University of Sydney is ranked 1st in Australia and 24th in the world according to the 2020-2021 University Ranking by Academic Performance.[107]

The University of Sydney Business School has cemented its place among the world's leading providers of business education with accreditations from AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS - leading authorities on postgraduate management studies, thereby achieving the top 1 percent "triple crown" status.[108]

The London-based Financial Times[109] has ranked the University of Sydney Business School's flagship Master of Management[110] as Australia's number one program of its kind for the eighth consecutive year since 2013. The Master of Management (MMgt) program was also ranked in the world's top 5 for "career progress" made by its graduates in 2019.[111]

In terms of alumni wealth, the number of wealthy Sydney alumni was ranked 5th outside the United States, behind Oxford, Mumbai, Cambridge and the London School of Economics according to the American Broadcasting Company.[112] Business magazine Spear's placed the University of Sydney 44th in the world and 2nd in Australia in its table of "World's top 100 universities for producing millionaires".[113]

The university has received a number of significant bequests and legacies over its history. The following are current professorships (chairs), funds and fellowships which are funded by bequests and legacies and named after benefactors:

The Grant of Arms was made by the College of Arms in 1857. The grant reads:

Argent on a Cross Azure an open book proper, clasps Gold, between four Stars of eight points Or, on a chief Gules a Lion passant Guardant also Or, together with this motto "Sidere mens eadem mutato" to be borne and used forever hereafter by the said University of Sydney on their Common Seal, Shields or otherwise according to the Law of Arms.

The use of eight-pointed stars was unusual for arms at the time, although they had been used unofficially as emblems for New South Wales since the 1820s and on the arms of the Church of England Diocese of Australia in 1836.[120]

According to the university, the Latin motto Sidere mens eadem mutato can be translated to "the stars change, the mind remains the same."[1] Francis Merewether, Vice-Chancellor and later Chancellor, in 1857 proposed "Coelum non animum mutant" from Horace (Ep.1.11.27) but after objections changed it to a metrical version including "Sidus" (Star), a neat reference to the Southern Cross and perhaps the Sydney family link with Sir Philip Sidney's "Astrophel (Star-Lover) & Stella (Star)".[121] Author and university alumnus Clive James quipped in his 1981 autobiography that the motto loosely implies "Sydney University is really Oxford or Cambridge laterally displaced approximately 12,000 miles."[122]

The SRC and Union are both governed by student representatives, who are elected by students each year. Elections for the USU board of directors occur in first semester; elections for the SRC President, and for members of the Students' Representative Council itself, occur in second semester, along with a separate election for the editorial board of the student newspaper Honi Soit, which is published by the SRC.[123]

Since 2000, the Dr Charles Perkins Oration has been held by the university, in honour of its first Aboriginal graduate, Charlie Perkins.[124] The orations have been delivered by prominent First Nations people, including Linda Burney, Pat Anderson, Daniel Browning, Mick Gooda and Ken Wyatt.[125]

The Oration includes the Charles Perkins Memorial Prize, which recognises the achievements of the top three Indigenous students at the university, based on the highest academic results in their field.[124]

In 2021, the awards event could not be held in the great hall, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, but Perkins' daughter, filmmaker Rachel Perkins, announced the recipients, and introduced Tony McAvoy, Australia's first Indigenous Queen's Counsel, to deliver the oration.[126][127]

University of Sydney alumni have made significant contributions to both Australia and the world for the past 172 years.

Notable alumni of Sydney include seven Prime Ministers, the most of any university, three Chief Justices of the High Court, four Federal Opposition Leaders, two Governors-General, nine Federal Attorneys-General, 13 Premiers of New South Wales including incumbent Premier Dominic Perrottet and 24 Justices of the High Court—more than any other law school in Australia. The faculty has also produced 24 Rhodes Scholars and several Gates Scholars. Internationally, alumni of Sydney Law School include the third President of the United Nations General Assembly and a President of the International Court of Justice (in each case, the only Australians to date to hold such positions).

The University of Sydney is associated with five Nobel laureates: in chemistry John Cornforth (alumnus; the only Nobel Laureate born in New South Wales) and Robert Robinson (staff); in economics, John Harsanyi (alumnus); and in physiology or medicine, John Eccles and Bernard Katz (both staff).

The School of Physics has played an important role in the development of radio astronomy in particular:[128] Ruby Payne-Scott conducted the first interferometric observations in radio astronomy with the sea-cliff interferometer at Dover Heights; alumnus Ron Bracewell proposed the nulling interferometer to image extrasolar planets, made contributions to the theory of the Fourier Transform and X-ray tomography, and proposed the idea of the Bracewell probe in SETI; and alumnus Bernard Mills led the construction of the Mills Cross Telescope and Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope in the ACT. School of Physics alumnus and Crafoord Laureate Edwin Salpeter discovered the form of the initial mass function of stars, the importance of beryllium-8 in stellar nuclear fusion, and independently with Yakov Zel'dovich proposed the black hole accretion disk model of active galactic nuclei. The Apollo 14 Mission Scientist Philip K. Chapman and the first Australian-born astronaut to fly in space Paul Scully-Power are both alumni of the university. Chaos theory pioneer and Crafoord Laureate Robert May is an alumnus of and former Professor at the School of Physics, best known for his exploration of the logistic map bifurcations.

In the performing arts, notable alumni include soprano Joan Sutherland; Shakespearean actor John Bell actor, producer and director Dolph Lundgren; Bahraini–Sri Lankan actress Jacqueline Fernandez; and South Korean singer, producer and director former C-Clown member Rome. In international politics, notable alumni include former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav and premier of British Columbia, John Horgan. In community activism, notable alumni include Aboriginal activist Charlie Perkins; feminist Eva Cox and Germaine Greer.

The University of Sydney has seen a considerable increase in number of visitors, specifically, a 4,000 visitor increase between 2017 and 2019.[129] A contributing factor to this surge in traffic is linked to Chinese tourists visiting the university due to travel agencies mistakenly advertising the Quadrangle as the film set for the Harry Potter series.[129]