Torbay’s steady hand at UNE

As the region’s biggest enterprise and a tertiary education facility of significance, the University of New England has emerged from troubled times with a much brighter future.

In no small way the university’s chancellor Richard Torbay has played a part in steadying the ship and setting it on a new course.

But also deserving of recognition are the vice-chancellor, Professor Jim Barber, and the university’s council.

In a competitive marketplace the university has growing enrolments. The bitter disputes which erupted between academic staff, students and management of a few years ago were not only causing damage to its reputation but also to the morale of those who make the university tick.

Professor Barber has secured the university’s confidence and this week his contract was extended, which should prolong the university’s focus on results, development and its relevance as an education provider to industry, business and the government sector.

Mr Torbay has announced he will step down as chancellor in a few months. 

This is the right decision. Some will argue he should have left earlier, 

not on the subject of capacity, but because of the politics of having a serving parliamentarian in charge.

But Mr Torbay understood the university. 

He started there in 1980 as a kitchenhand and rose through the ranks to head up the university union. 

Post his election to parliament as the member for Northern Tablelands, Mr Torbay rejoined the university during a dark chapter in its history. 

His calming influence and his ability to change the focus made a big difference.

The problems of the past are a reminder that it is important to ensure the right person is selected for the the chancellor’s post.

There have been some disappointments previously.

The appointment should be free of politics and the successful candidate should have an understanding, not only of tertiary education, but regional Australia and have the ability to lead a cohesive team.

This is an important job and the wrong person could undo some of the good work which has been achieved.

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