December 2017

This is the last edition of my blog for 2017, so I would like to share with you a summary of some of the activity across the University during 2017.

Reflecting on 50 years

As I’m sure you know, 2017 was the 50th anniversary of La Trobe enrolling its first cohort of students in March 1967. We celebrated this milestone in style, and I’m delighted that so many of our staff, students, alumni, friends and supporters joined for the celebrations.

Some of the highlights included the launch of our anniversary book From the Paddock to the Agora, which doubled as the launch of La Trobe University Press in partnership with Black Inc.; a reunion dinner with the first cohort of students that commenced at La Trobe in 1967; a re-enactment football match to mark the 50th anniversary of the La Trobe University Football Club; anniversary barbeques held on every campus; the launch of a Parliamentary and Alumni Chapter at Parliament House in Canberra and at the Victorian Parliament; a revival of the Hyllus Maris Memorial Lecture delivered by Anita Heiss; a week-long expo showcasing La Trobe’s research strengths at Queens Hall in the Victorian Parliament; alumni events in Beijing, Shanghai, Jakarta, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong during World La Trobe Week; and the highly successful soundvision closing event at the Melbourne campus last month that included the Cyber Games final and a specially commissioned film and music performance to mark the anniversary.

We also hosted sold out public events featuring Paul Keating, Michael Kirby, Kevin Rudd, Linda Jacobsen and Dava Sobel; and our BoldThinking Series continued to feature our researchers and public intellectuals discussing issues of national and international relevance.

We also ran a very popular ad campaign featuring photographs from the University’s archives with some tongue in cheek tag lines, celebrating the University’s heritage as a place of ideas, excellence, innovation, protest and inclusiveness.

We also launched the University’s first ever fundraising campaign, Make the Difference, to raise funds for scholarships, research and infrastructure renewal. Exceptionally generous donors have helped us to raise almost $23 million to date.

I would like to thank the many staff across the University who worked so hard to make these events a reality, especially in I&O, Marketing, Advancement and Alumni, and our wonderful Events team; staff in the 50th anniversary office, and my own staff in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor. All of these people are busy at the best of times, but went the extra mile this year to ensure that the 50th anniversary was a resounding success.

Rankings

It is fitting that in our 50th year we have achieved our best ever international ranking. This is result of exceptional work being done by many staff across the University.

We improved our position in the QS World University Rankings by 26 places to be ranked at 360 in the world, and we achieved our highest ever position in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, being ranked at 301 in the world, an astonishing improvement of 200 places over the last two years. We were placed at 392 in the Times Higher Education rankings, down 15 places compared to 2016, but overall we maintained our position in the top 400 of the three major rankings.

Each of you should be very proud that your University has performed so well on the international stage.

Academic leaders

This year we welcomed one of the nation’s most impressive academic leaders, Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, as our new Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). Kerri-Lee has already made a deep impact on those she has met, and will do a brilliant job leading her portfolio, and contributing to university leadership more generally.

La Trobe’s excellence in teaching was recognised this year, with Dr Bert De Groef, Dr Sylvia Grommen, Associate Professor Peter Sale and Dr Deborah Jackson all receiving Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning from the Federal Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching, the highest honour for teaching excellence in Australia.

We have also strengthened La Trobe’s position as a leading research university through a number of senior appointments; and many of our staff have achieved national and international recognition for their work.

There were no more deserving accolades than those received by our Distinguished Professor Jenny Graves, who was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science and the Lorne Genome Conference’s Julian Wells Medal for her outstanding contribution to knowledge about the genome.

Jenny has also agreed to continue her association with La Trobe through a new role as a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, along with highly respected business leader and La Trobe alumni James Fazzino.

Amongst recent appointments, Professor Tony Bacic, formerly of the University of Melbourne, was appointed as the inaugural Director of the La Trobe Institute of Agriculture and Food; and Professor John Moses, our Professor of Organic Chemistry, was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship.

Our academic staff were elected to various Learned Academies, both in Australia and overseas, in recognition of their contributions to disciplines including Allied Health, Law, Humanities and Occupational Therapy.

Partnerships

We established some significant new partnerships during the year. These include our partnership with the Australian Ballet, which builds on our expertise in sport and exercise medicine research; a project with the Silicon Valley-based Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) that will give our students access to PARC’s world-leading researchers; and our partnership with Ivanhoe Grammar School, which will see the School host its Year 9 program on La Trobe’s’ Melbourne campus.

We also established projects with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute that will commence in 2018, including a collaboration on a major type 2 diabetes study and four new PhD scholarships being co-funded by the Institute.

The La Trobe University Press, our publishing partnership with Black Inc., also went from strength to strength. In only twelve months the Press has published important books that are influencing international debate on topics such as the rise of China, artificial intelligence and Australia’s place in global politics.

The La Trobe Accelerator Program also opened for business, with the first group of commercial start-up ideas graduating from the program this week.

Employability

We launched one of Australia’s leading student employability programs this year, Career Ready. The program is helping our students develop the skills and experience they will need to be successful in the modern workplace. We also established a partnership with LinkedIn Learning, and opened a Unitemps service on the Melbourne campus to coordinate employment opportunities for students.

Cybersecurity and digital partnerships

La Trobe has established itself as a sector leader in programs that prepare students for careers in cybersecurity, and our new Bachelor of Cybersecurity will begin next year. We also launched a new program for secondary students in partnership with Optus and Cisco, which was the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere to introduce school students to cybersecurity careers through a Cyber Games challenge for students across the State.

Our partnership with Optus also continued to flourish, with plans in place for Optus to work with the University to trial smart cities technology on campus and to embed technological innovations in the new La Trobe Sports Park.

And in another sign that La Trobe is being recognised for its expertise in future technologies, last month we hosted Victoria’s first driverless bus trial on our Melbourne campus. Dr Ani Desai and his team in the Centre for Technology Infusion have done a terrific job in promoting La Trobe’s expertise in these fields.

Infrastructure

From 2016 to 2018 we are investing $300 million to make some much needed improvements to research and laboratory facilities and teaching and learning spaces.

This year we opened the refurbished Donald Whitehead, Martin and Reid Buildings on the Melbourne campus, upgraded the office space for our Research Services staff, and expanded our CBD campus in Collins Street.

We also updated computer labs at the Albury-Wodonga campus, refurbished the Brian Grogan Building in Mildura, and opened new nursing beds to support teaching in Shepparton. The Bendigo campus transformation project is well underway, and we are developing feasibility studies and campus master plans to support improvements at every regional campus. We also commenced works to build the $150 million La Trobe Sports Park on the Melbourne campus.

We opened the new $10 million La Trobe Sydney campus, and created a new Media Hub and Theatre and Drama space for students on the Melbourne campus. The express shuttle bus that operates between La Trobe’s Melbourne campus and Reservoir Train Station also became a permanent service during the year.

Research projects and funding

The process for allocating government research funding is an inexact science, and we had mixed results in the major research grant schemes this year. While our performance in the Australian Research Council (ARC) funding rounds was less fruitful than in previous years, we have been awarded $16.4 million in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding programs that have just been announced. This is an exceptional result, being the largest amount ever awarded to the University by the NHMRC, and is a testament to our growing research strength in disciplines such as Allied Health, Nursing and Midwifery, Psychology and Public Health, Molecular Sciences and Life Sciences.

La Trobe continued to be a leader in cancer research, especially through our experts in the School of Molecular Sciences and the School of Cancer Medicine at the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute. La Trobe researchers including Emeritus Professor Nick Hoogenraad and Dr Belinda Parker received funding from the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund and the Victorian Cancer Agency.

This year our researchers also helped to advance human knowledge across an impressive range of disciplines. To name just a few achievements, Dr Andy Herries was involved in discovering an ancient human species; Dr Irene Blackberry’s work improved the lives of people living with dementia; Dr Courtney Ennis helped to improve our understanding of atmospheric conditions on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon; Dr Lilit Thwaites continued her work to translate Spanish writers into English; Dr James Hunt was recognised for communicating advances in crop productivity to grain growers; and Dr Anita Smith was invited to join Australia’s delegation to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

Gender equity

We increased our commitment to gender equity this year, establishing new programs to support women at La Trobe and embedding existing programs as part of our standard practice.

La Trobe was awarded the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Employer of Choice for Gender Equity citation, and we have been very active in working to identify ways to improve gender equity though initiatives such as the SAGE Athena Swan Program, Women’s Academic Promotion Support Program, Primary Care Givers Support Fund, and La Trobe University Bridging Fellowships.

Student inclusion

During 2017 we also continued La Trobe’s tradition of making higher education accessible to everyone.

We introduced I-Aspire, a pilot program that aims to improve Indigenous educational access and attainment at La Trobe by building on the proven success of La Trobe’s Aspire program that recognises community involvement and achievement.

And our Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research (CHEEDR), led by Dr Andrew Harvey, continued its sector-leading research on equity and inclusion, and was fittingly the winner of the Australian Financial Review’s 2017 Higher Education Equity and Opportunity Award for its project providing support to assist people who have spent time in foster, residential or kinship care to succeed at university. Thank you from the students of La Trobe!

Thank you from the students of La Trobe!

I’d like to thank staff who participated in this year’s Golden Lanyard staff giving month during October. This year the number of staff making a regular contribution every fortnight from their pre-tax salary increased by 30 per cent, a wonderful result that means we can continue to increase the number of scholarships available to students in need. Thank you for being such an important part of the La Trobe community, and for working together to support our students to achieve their best.

Your generous support means that we are already in a position to offer two additional full scholarships to disadvantaged students commencing in 2018. Staff have also supported a range of regional scholarships and school-based awards.

Thanks for your support – it really does provide life-changing opportunities for students. If you have not yet done so, I hope you will join me in continuing to make a difference. Visit the intranet to find out how you can get involved today.

As you can see, it has been a huge year for La Trobe, and I thank all of you for your hard work and dedication in helping us to achieve so much this year.

To our students, staff, alumni and all members of the extended La Trobe community, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support in 2017 and to wish you and your families a happy and safe festive season.

I look forward to working with you all in 2018 to take La Trobe to even greater heights. In the meantime, have a good break.

John