Universities tackle the big issues

Universities tackle the big issues

As researchers race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 patients, there’s no doubt the current global pandemic has drawn attention to the significant impact universities have on our communities.

Universities are perfectly positioned to shape the world across all the big issues –related to COVID-19 and not. Bringing together education and research, we can have a profound impact on some of the greatest health, social and environmental issues on the planet – ranging from gender equality to climate change.

Here’s how.

Health is a top priority

Now, more than ever, health is at the top of the global agenda. Health services are playing a crucial role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and health research has taken centre stage as the world watches and waits for a vaccine.

We’re seeing global collaboration between the best researchers, universities and research institutes to solve our pressing world health challenge, including many of La Trobe’s own. To name just a few, Dr Joel Miller is an international expert on the modelling of infectious disease spread who has been part of the modelling consortium advising the Australian federal government.

Dr Rebecca Chisholm worked with researchers from The University of Melbourne to explain the purpose of disease modelling – she’s also conducting her own research to inform COVID-19 testing and response strategies in regional and remote Australian Indigenous communities and Papua New Guinea.

Expert epidemiologist Dr Hassan Vally has taken to the media to explain how fast-moving nations avoided disaster, why older people are more at risk of coronavirus and when we can relax social distancing restrictions.

Of course, our health and wellbeing research goes beyond just this pandemic. La Trobe is ranked as the number two university in the world for health and wellbeing.*

Our research spans from epidemiology to cancer research, but our work in autism is always one of star performers. The Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre is changing the lives of individuals and families. Breakthrough techniques in diagnosing young children with autism means they’re able to access support and interventions earlier – making all the difference. The Centre also boasts the multi-award-winning DXC Dandelion Program, an initiative that helps people with autism build the skills they need to pursue a career in information technology.

Addressing gender inequality

With all the attention on COVID-19, we can’t forget the other big issues. The pandemic will only exacerbate some of the challenges we’re already facing.

For one, we can’t press pause on gender equality. Around the world, we’re seeing an increase in domestic violence with the added pressures of self-isolation and financial strain.

There are so many sides to gender equality – and we’re coming from as many as possible, from the financial burdens that come with drinking disproportionately experienced by women to our network of researchers across La Trobe working in reducing violence against women and children at the Judith Lumley Centre.

The Centre also boasts leading research in gender, flexible work arrangements and increasing women in senior roles – and we incorporate this knowledge into what we offer staff at La Trobe.

In 2019, La Trobe won the Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award from Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) – the most comprehensive and systematic gender equality scheme in our sector. And in 2020, we were ranked number one in the world for gender equality.*

La Trobe is deeply engaged with and committed to addressing the world’s biggest issues; from gender equality to student employability and from health research and collaboration to reducing inequality and discrimination

John Brumby AO, Chancellor of La Trobe University

Our commitment to gender equality has seen us recruit more first-generation female students, increase the number of women in senior roles (47.2 per cent in March 2020) and graduate more female students.

There are many workshops, mentorship programs and other resources to elevate our female staff into leadership positions, including the Women’s Academic Promotions Support Program and WATTLE Women Attaining Leadership program. Because women in our society take on more carers’ duties than men, putting them at a disadvantage in many ways, we also offer funding to fuel the career momentum of researchers whose professional lives have been interrupted or delayed by childbearing, child rearing or other caring duties – such as the Tracey Banivanua Mar Fellowships and the Carers’ Travel Support Fund.

A blueprint for change

It’s clear the world is facing unprecedented health, environmental and social challenges. But we’re not without a blueprint for change. We look to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals calling for action to end poverty, protect the earth and encourage peace as we all work towards a common goal of sustainability.

La Trobe is ranked overall number four in the world for the Sustainable Development Goals.*

We’re working towards net zero carbon emissions by 2029 – and our four regional campuses will be carbon neutral by 2022. This is a $75 million project which includes energy-efficient lighting, ssolar panels, sustainable design and renewable construction technology on new buildings. It also involves retrofitting facilities to improve energy and water efficiency, biodiversity projects on campus, recycling all waste and a range of other initiatives to improve sustainability.

Plus, sustainability is a key part of our courses. Every first year undergraduate business student must take a sustainability subject and the popular MBA includes a core subject on responsible leadership. That’s not to say anything about electives, from the sustainability and development major in the Bachelor of Arts to the International Sustainability Experience subject that – in non-COVID-19 times – sees students take a two-week overseas field trip to explore sustainability across the Asia Pacific region.

And if you’re part of a business looking to make a positive impact, a public service worker or a policymaker, this seven-week course – developed in collaboration with three other universities around the globe – will help you take action for free.

Because together, we can do more good than alone.


Learn more about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and how La Trobe ranks among the top performing universities for global impact.


*Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2020, Impact Rankings 2020

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