Professor Don Watts


1 April 1934 –

Professor Don Watts
Professor Don Watts

Professor Don Watts was appointed the director of WAIT in 1980 – a position he held until 1986, and when WAIT became Curtin University of Technology in 1987, he became the inaugural Vice-Chancellor. He took over from Dr Haydn Williams, WAIT’s inaugural director, and continued the dynamism Williams had brought to the institution.

Watts was a significant figure in Australian education during the eighties, with many of his ideas shaping the policies of the Federal Government at the time. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his role in the abolishment of the ‘binary’ system of education in Australia. The binary system drew a distinct separation between universities and technical institutions, with universities enjoying higher status and higher levels of government funding. Watts worked with the Minister for Education at the time, Bob Pearce, to champion the importance of technical colleges in research and development. They sparked a revolution in higher education policy and the binary system was brought to an end in the mid-eighties.

Watts was also largely responsible for expanding WAIT’s role in community service and strengthening its research and development activities. This focus on being an ‘institute of service’ defined WAIT in its later years and continues today as Curtin University of Technology’s fundamental motivation.

In his eight and a half years of service to WAIT and Curtin, Watts pursued with single-mindedness his belief that institutions should be recognised for their worth rather than their sectoral identity, that all students should have equal access to education and that obstacles that interfere with an institute’s ability to provide a high level of education should be removed.

After leaving WAIT, Watts was the inaugural Vice-Chancellor of Bond University in Queensland from 1987 – 1990. He then returned to Western Australia to help establish the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle.

In recognition of Watts’s service to higher education, his profession and to the community, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Technology at Curtin 1988. Ten years later he was appointed a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia and in 2003 his work for tertiary education in Australia was recognised by the award of a Centenary Medal.

Still not content with his remarkable contribution to Western Australia, Professor Watts today holds the position of Chairman with the Woodside Valley Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that collects and preserves art and historical items of significance to the state.

Curtin has recognised his work with the naming of:


White, Michael. 1996. WAIT to Curtin: A History of the Western Australian Institute of Technology. Perth: Paradigm Books Curtin University.

Australia. Woodside Valley Foundation. (accessed 28 April 2008).