FORMER NSW deputy premier John Watkins could be the next chancellor of the University of New England.
This follows Northern Tablelands MP Richard Torbay resigning from the post yesterday.
Mr Watkins, a former Labor MP who was invited to join the UNE Council by Mr Torbay late last year, is the hot tip to take the chancellor’s position when the incumbent finishes on April 20.
Mr Torbay announced his resignation to the UNE Council yesterday morning, citing a need to focus his efforts on the forthcoming federal election and his candidacy for the seat of New England. “I wanted to make sure the university didn’t become a political tool,” Mr Torbay said.
“The timing to finish in April is right, even though it’s six months short of the five-year tenure.”
Mr Torbay wouldn’t be drawn on who his replacement would be, but said Mr Watkins was qualified to fill the role. “This is a guy who was deputy premier, held a number of ministry portfolios – including Minister for Education – and I think he would be would be a suitable candidate.”
Mr Watkins, who lives in Sydney, has been on the UNE Council since December.
He has been the chief executive of the NSW branch of Alzheimer’s Australia since his shock resignation from government in 2008.
Mr Watkins, who was a school teacher prior to his political career, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, Mr Torbay reflected on his four-year stint at UNE.
“I am extremely proud of the achievements of the University during my tenure as chancellor and am confident the strategic vision of the university places it in a competitive and strong financial position,” he said.
Mr Torbay took on the chancellor’s role after John Cassidy resigned in 2008 following a vote of no confidence from the staff at UNE.
“When I became chancellor, UNE was experiencing troubling times and an uncertain future.
The Northern Tablelands MP said he was proud of the university’s swift change during his tenure.
“We have completely turned that situation around and we are now one of the fastest growing universities in Australia with an enrolment growth of more than 20 per cent in the last two years.”
“In 2011 the university reported a $2 million surplus after many years of deficits, while in 2012 the university achieved a $13.8 million structural surplus.”
Vice-chancellor Jim Barber thanked Mr Torbay for his dedication to UNE.
“Richard’s vision and skill have been major factors in steering the University towards its current strong financial position,” Professor Barber said.
“Richard has been a close ally of this university during a challenging time.
“His inspiring leadership of the UNE Council and his ability to unite a team behind innovative strategic decision making has been a major factor in our successful achievements in such a rapidly changing and highly competitive education sector.”