Now and Then: Celebrating 30 years

More than 190,000 alumni have graduated since Western Sydney University was formally constituted on 1 January 1989.

With over 48,000 students and some 10 campuses scattered across Western Sydney, the University’s pivotal role in the region’s remarkable progress and development continues to grow with each passing year.

Many alumni are now returning to their alma mater to help current students through their own knowledge and experience.

Property developer Ammar Khan, and Fundraiser Deborah Carr, are two such graduates.

Ammar has taken time out from his busy schedule this year to mentor current students with the idea of preparing them for the workforce, while Deborah leads the campaign for donor-funded student scholarships as the Executive Director, Advancement.

Ammar Khan was already a property owner when he started his Bachelor of Housing degree at Western.

He remembers choosing the wrong course initially before switching to Housing and says things have changed greatly since those days when entrepreneurship was hardly encouraged.

“There was no concept of going into your own business anytime soon. It was all about finish your education… become a labourer for starters.”

But encouraged by his University peers at the time, Ammar believes the increasing industry connections in final years, and the hands-on experience of the associated TAFE courses such as bricklaying and carpentry, showed the way to the future.

“Since that time, more and more degrees have adopted that hands-on approach. There have been more TAFE-like subjects coming into university courses and Western has been a leader in making connections with industry to play a larger role in the educational process.”

Mount Druitt-raised, Ammar graduated in 2008, worked as a surveyor and then a construction manager. In 2010 he started his own construction company and now runs a business turning over $6 million revenue a year.

In 2019 Ammar started mentoring students at Western to help them avoid the pitfalls.

“Once established, I saw where I had struggled and where students could do with a lot of help. I decided to formulate the experience into a short course. Now I present it to students and the unemployed to teach them how to get started.

“The skill is there in their own hands and that’s what I like to teach; they have the skills; they have the knowledge. All they have to do is put it into an action plan to get themselves started.”

Deborah leads Western’s Office of Advancement, driving the University’s fundraising team. She returned to campus in late 2013 after a career in the corporate world, private enterprise and not-for-profit organisations. Philanthropic gifts back then totalled approximately $2 million.

Last year, philanthropic support topped $21.5 million.

Deborah completed her Bachelor of Communications in 1991, amongst one of the first graduating years from the newly constituted University, what was then known as UWS Nepean. She freely admits she never envisaged working for a university, let alone in philanthropy.

But Deborah’s story of a close friend who started the Communications course with her in 1989 demonstrates one of the roles of philanthropy in tertiary education.

“When I think of my friend from Victoria – who went on to great success, by the way – it struck me just how much easier it would have been for her if a scholarship had been available. It would have absolutely transformed her student experience… not just the money, but the confidence that comes from knowing someone is willing to back her.”

Deborah says the University’s rebrand in 2015 saw a significant increase in interest from philanthropists who became more aware of the University’s leadership role in the Western Sydney dynamic.

“Everyone I talk to, graduates, staff and the wider community, have so much pride and respect for the impact the University has had over the last 30 years.”

And the future? As alumni start to peak in their careers in increasing numbers, Deborah predicts their support will increasingly put Western on the same philanthropic footing as other older, more established universities.