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The DVCs: John Rosenberg

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Matt Smith:

Hello, and welcome to the La Trobe University podcast. My name is Matt Smith. And today, I'm speaking with Professor John Rosenberg. He's the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Development and International here at La Trobe University and he's my boss', boss' boss. Thank you for joining me, John Rosenberg.

John Rosenberg:

My pleasure.

Matt Smith:

For listeners that might not be aware of the University and how it's run at upper management level, can you explain what your role is and where you fit in the scheme of things? And you've had a recent title change. Why did you go through that?

John Rosenberg:

Right. My title, when I was appointed to La Trobe just over a year ago, was Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and Future Students). But my role is really broader than that.

I have overall responsibility for internationalisation at the University which isn't just about recruiting students. It's much more than that. It's also about student mobility; providing opportunities for students from Australia to travel, as part of their degree program.

It's about internationalising the curriculum, assisting with the development of international research collaboration. So, really a very broad view of internationalisation.

The other half of the role is about marketing and engagement and about brand management and about recruitment of undergraduate and postgraduate Australian students.

But, also, I'm involved in a range of development projects. Two examples; we've recently revamped our international college to develop a new college to be called La Trobe Melbourne, which will be operated in conjunction with an external company, Navitas.

I've also been involved in developing a new relationship with Melbourne Heart; the new A-league soccer team, based in Melbourne and based on our campus at Bundoora and we're now a major sponsor of that team.

Matt Smith:

How closely do you work with the other DVC's in your work?

John Rosenberg:

We really do work as a team. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to La Trobe was in the advertisement for this position. The Vice-Chancellor talked about looking for somebody who would be Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and Future Students) but would be capable of taking on the role of either of the other DVC's.

And when I asked him about that, what he said was he was looking for a team who could work together and contribute across the broad range of activities in the university. So, we really do work very, very closely as a team.

Matt Smith:

I'm keen to go into a bit more detail about La Trobe's relationship with its international students. But generally, what role do internationals students play in defining La Trobe's image?

John Rosenberg:

It's a really important role. La Trobe has around about 29,000 students in total and about 6,000 of these are international students from well over 80 different countries. And so, that makes the University an incredibly multi-cultural organisation.

When you walk around the campus, you can see, very quickly, that there are people from many, many different cultures. When you go to the Agora, sit down and have a cup of coffee; you could be sitting next to somebody from China, somebody from India, somebody from an African country - a whole range of people.

And we can learn from that and I'm a great believer that education is one of the enablers of world peace. That may seem like a very broad statement but I really believe this; that the best things we can do is educate people, get them together so they can learn from each other.

Matt Smith:

Australia is at a little bit of a disadvantage when trying to attract international students. We've got a lot of competition in the UK and the U.S. and it's tough just to get visas to go here and the strength of the Australian dollar and simply a factor is our geographical position as well. Would you agree that it's getting harder to attract international students?

John Rosenberg:

We're facing a challenging period. We've been incredibly successful in Australia. In fact, the most successful country in the world, when you consider our population, at attracting and providing opportunities for international students.

We've seen huge growths over the last five years. But you're absolutely correct. Next year, we're facing a whole range of issues. Just today - last night saw the dollar come very, very close to parity with the U.S. dollar and that makes the cost for international students, of coming to Australia, much higher.

In fact, given the very weak UK pound, right at the moment, it's almost cheaper for an international student to go to the UK than Australia and that's never been the case before.

But all is not lost. One of the things we do offer is very high quality education and the wonderful student experience. And that's what we need to market with, that's what we need to tell international students about.

Matt Smith:

For international students that are looking to come to Australia for tertiary education, why do you think they should choose La Trobe University over one of the many universities here in Australia?

John Rosenberg:

Well, Australia has 39 universities and they're all very good institutions. But I think, La Trobe does have some unique features.

First of all, it has, what I would argue as, one of the best campuses in the country. It's a beautifully designed campus with lots of open spaces, a moat around the campus, a central area of the Agora, where everyone gravitates to. It's a very, very comfortable environment to be located on. I think, you'll go a long way to find a better campus in Australia.

Secondly, I do believe, we provide a very caring student experience. Our staff really do care about students. We look after them from the day they make their first application until the day they graduate. And we provide a whole range of services to make sure that the experience is a wonderful experience for every student on the campus.

Thirdly, we have some world leading academic staff at La Trobe University across a range of areas. And so, our courses are very high quality and degrees are accepted anywhere in the world. So, I think, there are many advantages of coming to La Trobe.

Matt Smith:

In February, you told ABC Stateline that La Trobe had experienced about a 50% drop in the number of applications and acceptances from international students. And that was after attacks on the Indian students in Melbourne and there was a media scare going on about that time. How do you think the University coped with the bad publicity and the results dropped -

John Rosenberg:

That was a drop of students from India; from other areas, we've been continuing to grow, in fact. From India, we had a very significant drop, as did every university in Australia.

It was a range of issues that caused that. Certainly, one of them was a number of attacks, in Melbourne in particular. I think, that the state government has now responded very well to those. They've increased policing.

I think one of the other things that helped, as well, is that there were a very large number of students coming, particularly, to study a range of vocational programs and sometimes, the colleges, perhaps, weren't of the highest quality and there's been a process of cleaning this up. I think that has helped greatly, as well.

I'm going to India, again, in December. We'll be meeting with students, meeting with universities, meeting with agents. I still believe Melbourne is a very, very safe city. It's a large city; of course, there's some violence in Melbourne as there is in all the large cities but I think, if students are careful, they can be very, very safe.

But the other thing, incidentally, we did introduce is we now give every student a card which has a 24 hour / seven day a week telephone number that they can ring at any time if they need any help or any assistance.

Matt Smith:

Did the numbers recover after the mid-year enrolments, at all?

John Rosenberg:

Our total numbers this year are about the same as last year. But the number of students coming from India has dropped very, very significantly and we haven't seen that recover. And I don't expect that to recover, next year.

But it's not just the issues that were around violence. It's also, as you mentioned earlier, a combination of the incredibly strong Australian dollar, a decision by the Australian government to increase the amount of funds students need to bring -which was a sensible decision -but it's unfortunate that it happened at the same time as the dollar strengthened and the changes, particularly, around immigration laws.

Many of the students from India came to Australia with the hope of, perhaps, staying on and working in this country.

Matt Smith:

In the last few years, we've seen a dramatic increase in student enrolments, not just at the Melbourne campus here, but at the regional campuses as well. What has La Trobe been doing and, more specifically, what has your future students team been doing to make La Trobe an attractive place for prospective students?

John Rosenberg:

That's a really good question and then, the answer is, we've been out there talking about La Trobe. Unfortunately for a period of a number of years up til about 2008, the university was just a bit too quiet.

While other universities were out talking to students, talking to schools, telling them about the opportunities they offer; La Trobe wasn't doing a lot. We've been out at schools, aggressively; talking to students, telling them about this wonderful campus, about the opportunities for study here, about the unique programs we offer, about the infinite possibilities they can have here at La Trobe University.

And that's starting to have an effect. We've seen a significant growth in first preferences from domestic students across all of our campuses, last year. And the timely polls, which we're just starting to see data from, indicate further growth in preferences for La Trobe, this year.

Matt Smith:

Once upon a time it was rare for students to come to university from anywhere but straight out of high school. As you are saying, we're trying to push more into high schools. But what are we doing to attract mature-aged students as well because it seems to be there's a great boom in the mature-aged student industry here?

John Rosenberg:

We've been marketing it, in a number or ways but also, working very closely with TAFE colleges. We have a number of partner TAFEs located very close to our campuses, particularly, our regional campuses. Often, mature-aged students, their way back into study is through a TAFE college.

And so, we're working with those TAFE institutes to ensure that if students undertake a program, there's an opportunity then to articulate into the university with credit. So, they can eventually complete a postgraduate degree.

Matt Smith:

In 2003, you left your position as Dean of Information Technology at Monash University to become the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic over at Deakin. What prompted you to make that move towards, what I assume would be, a more admin-heavy role?

John Rosenberg:

Well, it's interesting that you should say that. I never think of myself as an administrator. I think of myself as an academic leader. And that's why I moved, because that was an opportunity to provide more leadership at Deakin, around academic matters.

There's nothing wrong with being an administrator. But I think, my expertise and my background allows me to provide good academic leadership and that's what I see my role as and that's why I went to Deakin.

I still think of myself as an academic and computer scientist and I still have a small research group with two staff who are funded by external grant.

Matt Smith:

Now, when you left Deakin the Vice-Chancellor Sally Walker said your background in computers science had helped the university enormously in relation in matters such as Deakin Students Online. Have you found a use for your IT background in your role at La Trobe, as well?

John Rosenberg:

Yes, I've been chairing a steering committee for the LMS project which is a SysOne student system which is now live. It went live in May and working quite well. So, I've been heavily involved in that.

I also, chair an ICT strategy committee for the University which looks one or two years ahead and tries to develop strategy for the university around ICT, working closely with our ICT division.

Matt Smith:

What universities have you been involved in? Deakin and Monash Uni, you said the University of Sydney there at one point. But I've also got here that you've been at the University of Newcastle?

John Rosenberg:

Yes, I was at the University of Newcastle from 1986 to 1991; I went there as a Senior lecturer, was promoted to Associate Professor and was head of the department of Computer Science at Newcastle, as well.

Matt Smith:

And the University of St. Andrews in Scotland?

John Rosenberg:

That was on a one year sabbatical.

Matt Smith:

Ah, OK. In your opinion, what makes La Trobe different from those other institutions? Or put it differently, what do you see is the La Trobe brand?

John Rosenberg:

I think, one of the things is that, right at the moment in La Trobe, there really is an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude. That this is the university that can do things, that can change, can develop, that can contribute; particularly, to the government's new agenda around participation and access to education. I think, that's one differentiator at La Trobe.

And in fact, that's always been part of La Trobe. La Trobe has always been somewhat of a radical university - a little bit different from other universities. And I think, that continues.

I think La Trobe has a very, very strong academic staff in a range of areas, particularly, in the sciences, in molecular science and in the humanities areas where we have some absolute outstanding intellectuals who contribute to world debate. And students get access to those people.

And in a third area, where I think La Trobe is different, is in the health sciences where we really do provide a very broad range of opportunities.

Matt Smith:

The La Trobe strategic brand, Vision 2015, was launched recently with the aim or preparing the university for success in a rapid changing education environment. Where would you like to see the university in five year's time, in 2015?

John Rosenberg:

I think, by 2015, La Trobe will be seen as a leading university in the country. I think, it's already seen as a major university.

But I think, we'll move up to being a leading university; particularly, a university that does provide opportunities for students to transform their lives and opportunities for students across a wide range of areas - not just people who go on to it that strong private school in the centre of Melbourne. But people from regional areas, people from out of Melbourne areas who might have otherwise not had an opportunity to study.

And I conceive La Trobe, also, being seen as an institution that undertakes research that makes a difference; research that really is useful, that has real outcomes that affect the world in the future.

Matt Smith:

Well, that's all the time we have for the podcast today. If you'd like to leave a comment about this or any other podcasts, you can send us an email at podcast@latrobe.edu.au.

Professor John Rosenberg, thanks for your time today.

John Rosenberg:

My pleasure, Matt.

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