The 2014 autumn graduation ceremonies of the University of New England continued over the weekend with hundreds more students and post graduate students sharing the limelight.
Former member for New England Tony Windsor was one of those who celebrated a new honour.
The former independent MP, who retired at the federal election in September, was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa – HonDLitt) from the UNE.
He can now call himself Dr Windsor if he wants – and cheekily he has already informed one of his two brothers that the brother isn’t the only one in the family who can claim the doctor honorific anymore.
Mr Windsor said he was proud to be a graduate of the UNE (he graduated with a bachelor in economics 41 years ago), but he was surprised and very humbled and would wear his new title as a badge of honour, not just for him, but more for his staff who had worked for him for many years.
Like a lot of UNE graduates, there was a real affinity with the place, he said.
“A lot of people come here, a lot have taught here and studied here, and stayed here,” Mr Windsor said.
There was a different flavour to the UNE, and with a lot of history it also had a “community about it which was an important part of the osmosis that takes part in a place where people get a feel for the land they live in,” he said.
Almost 1000 graduates are receiving their testamurs from the University of New England in four ceremonies.
Mr Windsor delivered the Occasional Address prior to the presentation to over 200 UNE School of Law and Business graduates.
He received his honorary degree from UNE Chancellor John Watkins as part of the proceedings.
Saturday’s ceremony also saw the UNE vice-chancellor Professor Jim Barber perform his final official duties at the university.
Professor Barber resigned suddenly and unexpectedly in late January, well ahead of his contract time.
He is credited with strengthening the financial position of the university considerably during his time, with external student enrolments now up to 23,000.
“It’s no secret we have made a big effort to go online,” he said after Saturday’s ceremony.
“It’s just as well we did. There’s really quite a competition happening between universities in cyberspace and fortunately this university is leading, at least nationally it’s leading, but events are moving so fast that we are going to have to keep up the pressure.”
Professor Barber said it was critical to remain competitive because it was now a competitive marketplace where every student who enrols at UNE is one they have to compete for.
It was unprecedented, he said, and in the past there had been an entitlement to a certain number of student places but that was all gone.
“What’s more, the competition is not just domestic anymore, we are now competing with the seriously big end of town, the MITs, the Harvard universities, the Stanfords, Princeton, they’re all going on line and they’re all after our students.”
He said that while UNE was well positioned ahead of the global education competition, and it had a strategy working now, it had to remain innovative into the future.
He said he had not figured out yet what he would do when he finished his tenure at UNE in a couple of months, although he has previously indicated he will move back to Melbourne with his family when he finishes up at Armidale.
Saturday’s graduation followed that of the first on Friday, when more than 250 graduates from the schools of arts, humanities, behavioural, cognitive and social sciences were presented with their testamurs.
Next Friday will see the graduation ceremony for the education awards with the science, health and medicine awards presented on Saturday.