BSL's Social Policy and Research Centre and the University of Melbourne have a longstanding collaboration founded on a shared commitment to developing high quality research and a mutual concern for social justice and equity.

BSL and the University share a history of collaboration that spans at least 50 years. In 2003 the organisations formalised this relationship as a partnership underpinned by a Memorandum of Understanding. At the University of Melbourne responsibility for the partnership rests with the School of Social and Political Sciences in the Faculty of Arts; however partnership activities are University-wide.

The partnership has four main objectives:

  • Develop a joint research program
  • Develop a joint learning and teaching program
  • Develop a program of joint events
  • Jointly develop, fund and select appointees to key positions within the University

A Partnership Board and Steering Committee oversees the collaboration and works to ensure the partnership has a University-wide impact. In February 2021, members of the board were:

  • Conny Lenneberg, BSL
  • Shelley Mallett, BSL
  • Danielle Thornton (also Secretary) BSL
  • Karen Farquharson, Head School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Abigail Payne, Director, Melbourne Institute
  • Bruce Bonyhady, Director, Melbourne Disability Institute

Joint academic appointees work across both the Brotherhood and the University of Melbourne:

Joint research program

In 2020–21, four distinct research projects have involved resource sharing or joint governance: 

  1. What, where and how: experiences of adults with disability participating in the community without NDIS funding
    This project explores whether and how people with disability who are ineligible to become NDIS participants are finding and using the services and other supports they need to participate in the community.

    The research, funded by BSL with in-kind support from the Melbourne Disability Institute at the University of Melbourne, is led by Dr Amber Mills, Senior Research Fellow in the Inclusive Communities team in the Social Policy and Research Centre at BSL, and Dr Sue Olney, Research Fellow in Public Policy at MDI.

  2. The Economic Participation and Employment Project (EPEP)
    This NDIA-funded project aims to identify the best evidence regarding the effectiveness of different disability employment interventions, and relevant best practice, with a focus on  interventions targeted at people with autism, intellectual disability and psycho-social disability.

    The project is a collaboration between BSL, the Disability Health Unit in the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, and the Public Service Research Group (PSRG) at UNSW. Team leaders included Diane Brown, Principal Research Fellow for the Inclusive Communities team at BSL and Prof. Anne Kavanagh at DHU.

  3. The Youth Opportunity Compass
    This project grew out of a shared interest at BSL and the Melbourne Institute in the dynamics of youth unemployment and underemployment.

    The development of the Youth Opportunity Compass – a tool to enable local Community Investment Committees (CICs) to make informed decisions – draws on the Institute's work to develop a prototype ‘data dashboard’, essentially a platform for providing real-time data on local labour market trends.

    This is led by Kira Clarke, Senior Research Fellow in the Youth Opportunity team in the Social Policy and Research Centre at BSL, with the support of researchers in the Institute’s Applied Economic and Social Research stream.

  4. Scoping project for income supplement trial
    BSL, the Melbourne Institute and Prof. Sharon Goldfeld from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute share an interest in developing a research trial of a supplementary income for families with young children, to help understand the relationship between income and child and family wellbeing.

    A researcher employed by the Melbourne Institute is reviewing comparable supplementary payment schemes and trials overseas to assess the viability of such a trial in Victoria.

Joint teaching

A key strategic objective of the partnership is to enrich the educational experience of students and expand their capabilities as professionals and agents of systemic change.

in 2020–21, BSL staff involvement included

  • delivery of the intensive subject Social Justice: Policy & Practice
  • supervision of student research
  • professional development through both formal and informal internships and mentoring
  • contribution to teaching into the MA Social Policy.


In 2020–21 the coronavirus pandemic constrained face-to-face engagement but exponentially increased the reach of online events. Public webinars during Social Science Week in 2020, 2021 and 2022 featured presenters from both BSL and the University.

Contact Deborah Warr