In March 1974, I stood in Eddy Avenue outside Central Railway Station, surrounded by hundreds of young people waiting to struggle on to an express bus taking students out to the Uni of NSW campus at Kensington. It was my first week in my first year at University. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I was the first in my family to go to university which was free following Gough Whitlam’s election in 1972 and his Government’s desire to rapidly increase opportunities for tertiary education.
I was doing Arts/Law, fresh out of an all boys’ high school in Sydney. It took me a while to get my head around it all but it started a life-long fascination and involvement in Education.
Since then, I have been a school teacher for 16 years, the Minister for Education in NSW, a University Council Member and now the Chancellor of one of Australia’s most unique and quality universities. That first bus trip has, for me, lead to a long and satisfying journey.
Recently I have been thinking about the benefits of university education and what UNE students can expect from their time at UNE. First, university still provides that most remarkable opportunity for individuals to change their lives through education. UNE, with other universities, unlocks human potential and allows opportunities to flourish.
Second, it plays a critical role in professional and vocational education and training. It prepares individuals for careers and assists our country to grow economically, in reputation and in the contact it engenders between people.
Third, UNE allows students to meet inspiring teachers, to develop relationships with other students who will be life-long friends and provides many with the opportunity to experience the world through meeting students from overseas and for some, studying in foreign universities.
Fourth, studying at UNE, as with other universities, helps the development of a more tolerant, enquiring, more sensitive and democratic Australia. That is what education does for people and UNE has been doing it superbly for generations.
Finally, studying at university satisfies that deep yearning human beings have for knowledge, for understanding the mystery of our existence, for sensitivity towards the beauty of music, art and literature and to give us the opportunity to reflect and ponder on such aspects of life.
All of these qualities are present in the life of UNE, in the students we embrace and in the staff who devote themselves to the challenge. Accordingly, I am delighted and humbled at being elected Chancellor of this great university.
- John Watkins Chancellor, UNE