This paper draws on a project examining the binary policy of higher education formulated in Australia in the mid-1960s. Its purpose is to discuss history as a policy tool and research impact. The historical analysis identified several enduring problems - beyond the central matter of funding - in tertiary education: insufficient diversity; obstacles to seamless pathways; competition for research dollars; and overly complex governance. Senior figures in Australian tertiary education discussed these themes. The author drew on their bold thinking to present sketches for a new educational landscape. History sparked fresh ideas. The project was being completed as the government proposed to uncap tuition fees and reduce public funding for university study. Its findings did not gain much attention when published because of the misfit between the pace of research and policy development, modest dissemination and the political focus of the debate on fees. It would be possible to assess any longer-term impact using an approach developed by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.