June 2016

Hello and welcome to the June edition of From the VC’s Desk. It’s difficult to believe that we are almost halfway through the calendar year!

As Semester One draws to a close, it’s a busy time for staff and students as they prepare for exams and finalise assessments. Meanwhile, there is an election campaign underway which, we hope, will provide some much-needed certainty for the sector on future funding arrangements, and a Senate willing to make sensible changes. Sadly, higher education has scarcely featured as an election theme, but whoever wins will still claim a mandate to implement their policies for the sector; but more on that later.

Fossil fuel free feedback

There’s been a fantastic response to our recently announced decision to divest of fossil fuel investments held in our managed funds.

La Trobe is proudly a leader in this space and has earned the praise of wide cross sections of the community and media for not only talking about sustainability, but more importantly doing something about it.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work and advocacy of our ‘Fossil Free La Trobe’ Students, who did a magnificent job of persuading our Council of the merits of the change.

Meeting our regional teams

The Senior Executive team and I have recently returned from each of our regional campuses where we met with many of you and heard about the priorities, challenges and achievements so far this year.

It was great to see so many of you attending these sessions, which are a valuable way to connect with our La Trobe communities.

We opened the sessions to group discussions led by a member of the senior executive team. The topics covered were: improving the quality of our teaching and learning, developing our regional research performance and industry engagement and the employability of our graduates, building our TAFE partnerships and a discussion on academic administrative improvements.

The ideas generated by these discussion groups have been food for thought for the team and will be incorporated into our thinking on each of these important areas.

La Trobe gets a stronger voice on Universities Australia Board

Last month I was elected as a Director of the Universities Australia (UA) Board. This will mean that La Trobe has a voice in the sector’s national peak body.

It also means that I will be close to the debates about the value and benefits of higher education in Australia as we enter what promises to be an ‘interesting’ period of change. I have also agreed be the VC lead for UA on workforce issues and to take on a leadership role for the 2018 UA Conference when planning commences in April next year.

Election update

I am sure you have all noticed that we are now at the half-way point of a 55-day election campaign, one of the longest campaigns the country has ever had.

The election is also important for La Trobe because we hope the Coalition Government will announce funding for the joint La Trobe and Charles Sturt University proposal to establish the Murray Darling Medical School (MDMS) with campuses in Bendigo, Orange and Wagga. A commitment by the Government would deliver only the second medical school to be located in rural or regional Australia. I look forward to keeping you updated on progress with this important initiative.

Re-vamped Union Hall

On Thursday 19 May, I had the pleasure of officially re-opening the University’s principal events and functions space, Union Hall.

The $3 million project, delivered on-time and on-budget, provides the University with a modern and versatile venue ideal for university, community and commercial use including activities such as graduation ceremonies, exams, trade shows, conferences and functions.

Specifically, the refurbishment includes: better heating and cooling, improved ICT and AV technologies, better acoustics, improved lighting, both on the stage and across the venue, a new roof, an upgraded main entry including new signage, lighting and weather protection, some improved landscaping and better access to the Moat Theatre for those all-important post-graduation pictures for family and friends.

Melbourne Campus Building works snapshot

Construction activity on the Donald Whitehead building on the Melbourne Campus is ramping up.
A section of the Martin building brickwork has been demolished - including the connecting bridge to the Donald Whitehead building. The contractors will soon be commencing earth work and piling construction of a new link building to connect the two.

La Trobe leads innovative approach to helping children with disabilities

In an Australian first, La Trobe University will partner with the specialist school Kalianna in Bendigo to establish a research centre and teaching school focused on the educative needs of children with disabilities.

To be known as the Kalianna-La Trobe University Community Research Alliance (KLUCRA), the new research centre will bring together experts including psychologists, speech pathologists, dentists, occupational therapists and social workers – to develop new models of learning for students with special needs. The Centre will be funded by the Victorian State Government.

The teaching school will be open to both undergraduate and postgraduate La Trobe students, giving them the skills to become leaders in the specialist education field. It also has the potential to bring strong research and innovation to the forefront of the way we educate students with additional needs.

The establishment of the centre reaffirms La Trobe’s commitment to innovation and creating meaningful social change, and I look forward seeing the centre develop and sharing the stories of its successes.

On the Buses – La Trobe style

The shuttle bus service between Reservoir Station and our Melbourne Campus has been running since February and it is timely to give you an update on just how popular it is becoming.

Every day about 1000 passengers are taking advantage of the convenience and frequency of a public transport connection that is making their trip to work faster and more sustainable.

We’ve had great feedback on the new service, including from staff from regional Victoria who have commented on the amount of time and driving stress it has saved them.
The long-term future of the service will depend on its patronage, so I encourage you all to continue to use the service and if you haven’t already, try getting to work on the buses.

Wellness walk

Are you in training for the upcoming Wellness Walk and Research Run through the scenic grounds of the Melbourne Campus this September?

We are delighted to be partnering with the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute to host this event on campus.

Since its launch three years ago, the event has been attended by more than 6000 participants and has raised more than $400,000 to help people live better with cancer and defeat it.

Former Olympian Steve Moneghetti AM will be the official ambassador of the new Research Run, and will join Olivia Newton-John on Sunday 11 September. This year there will be a 5km walk, as well as a run of 5km or 10km.
I’ll be taking part - I encourage you to do the same.

Brumby now a Doctor of Letters

In a slightly related piece of news I had the pleasure of conferring the former Victorian Premier and Treasurer John Brumby with a Doctor of Letters at a recent graduation.

He already has a strong connection to La Trobe as the chairman of the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute and this further strengthens that working relationship.
John has a sharp intelligence and a deep and passionate commitment to making a difference – attributes that make him an ideal candidate for a La Trobe degree.

My Big Idea

Many of you may be aware that  La Trobe University is a foundation partner of the Australian Futures Project, which seeks to overcome the short term nature of Australian policy debate.

They’ve just launched an exciting and ambitious project called `My Big Idea`, which encourages the grass roots generation of new policy ideas framed around ten key issues.

Please take look around the My Big Idea website and submit your idea.

La Trobe is a sponsor of the event, so we’ll also be hosting our own brainstorming sessions on our campuses later this year.

Have a great June.

John