Thank you and farewell from the Vice-Chancellor

Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor John Dewar AO, shares a warm farewell and highlights accomplishments driven by the support of the alumni community from his time at La Trobe.

We’re approaching the end of another productive year at La Trobe. It’s been wonderful to see our alumni remain connected with us during 2023. I’ve enjoyed seeing some of you at events including the celebrations of 150 years of tertiary education in Bendigo and the reunion we held with our earliest graduates in Bundoora. I know that our alumni remain passionate about the University and play a part in our success. I’m grateful for the way that you raise the profile of La Trobe by making a difference to your local communities, our students, and the world. I hope that you take pride in our collective achievements.

It’s been a privilege to serve our community as Vice-Chancellor for the last twelve years. To celebrate our time together, I’d like to highlight a few of our achievements from across the last decade.

Make the Difference Campaign

Back in 2017, we launched our first ever fundraising campaign, Make the Difference, to support our deserving scholarship recipients and fund vital research. The program has been incredibly successful. Our exceptionally generous donors have contributed significant amounts to the campaign.

In 2012, our donations and bequests totalled around $1 million. Today, we stand together having raised an astounding $132 million. I take much great pride in the remarkable growth we have achieved.

I’d like to thank every member of our generous community who continues to believe in the important work we’re doing. You are the driving force behind the positive impact we've been able to make, and indeed, you are the ones who are "making the difference."

200,000th graduate

I remember watching 26-year-old international student Harsha Iruvaram cross the stage in 2018, when he was announced as our 200,000th graduate to a shower of confetti and thunderous applause. It was so fitting to see Harsha, a passionate business graduate, take that title, especially because our international students are a vital part of the tapestry which makes up La Trobe.

It’s exciting to know we’ve had almost 50,000 more graduates cross the stage at La Trobe since that day – and that the University will welcome thousands more students in the years ahead.

Pathways program launched

In 2019, we received an incredibly generous gift of $250,000 from the Gillespie Family Foundation to improve educational pathways and life opportunities for young people in the Shepparton region. The funding helped launch the Bradford Shepparton Pathway Program – named after the late Audrey May Gillespie (nee Bradford), mother of La Trobe alumnus and Bakers Delight co-founder Roger Gillespie – building on a very successful pilot run in Albury-Wodonga.

The Program has been hugely successful, with participants over four times more likely to attend university compared to the average participation rate in the regions. Over the last four years, funding for the Pathways Program has reached almost $1.7 million. Thanks to our generous community, including many of alumni, we will be expanding this life-altering program to Mildura and Bendigo in 2024.

It’s clear that our alumni believe in the power of education as much as we do. Like me, you believe that everyone should have the chance to go to university, regardless of their background, or the town in which they grew up. Thank you.

COVID-19 and the Student Crisis Appeal

I can’t discuss the highlights of the last 12 years without mentioning some of the low points – partly because some of the dark times we’ve faced have brought out the best in our community.

In just one month of 2020, La Trobe’s Student Crisis Appeal achieved a truly remarkable result. Donations from over 800 members of our community surpassed our target of $550,000.

This collective kindness had a tangible impact, providing life-changing financial assistance to more than 1,200 students. Beyond the monetary support, each donation carried a message of solidarity and hope, offering encouragement to our students at a time when they were facing profound difficulties.

Although 2020 was an uncertain time for us all, one thing was evident to me: the unity and generosity of the La Trobe community remained strong.

100 Distinguished Alumni Awards presented

The Distinguished Alumni Award is one of the highest honours bestowed by the University. The award is presented annually to alumni from our community of nearly 240,000 graduates. 2023 marked a significant milestone as we presented the 100th award in partnership with UniSuper.

Among the eight exceptional alumni who received an award this year were Senator Jana Stewart, the youngest First Nations woman to be elected to federal parliament; Geoff Wilson AO, founder of Wilson Asset Management and creator of Australia’s first listed philanthropic wealth creation vehicle; Philip Cleary, an anti-domestic violence campaigner who helped abolish the law of provocation in Victoria; Adjunct Professor Ann Maree Keenan, former Victorian Chief Nurse and Midwifery Officer; Roger Gillespie OAM, co-founder and chairman of Australia’s most successful bakery franchise, Bakers Delight; Paul Joss, Albury-Wodonga leader and Joss Group Managing Director; and Dr Cynthia Brown, a prominent businesswoman, speaker, researcher and non-executive director of the Brown Family Wine Group.

What an incredible group – they really demonstrate how La Trobe graduates have left their imprint on just about every field. Like all of our alumni, they personify our values and demonstrate the impact that higher education has on individuals and our society as a whole. By sharing their stories, experiences, and exceptional achievements, these alumni demonstrate the impact that higher education has on individuals, families, and the broader community.

La Trobe launches new Indigenous Strategy

We’re deeply committed to supporting our First Nations students, staff, and communities. This year, we released our new Indigenous Strategy that promotes Indigenous leadership, self-determination, and knowledge.

The Strategy was developed in consultation with Indigenous Elders and community members, Indigenous and non-Indigenous La Trobe staff, and Indigenous undergraduate and postgraduate students.

We’ll continue to work closely with Indigenous communities now that the Strategy has been launched. We’re establishing a Council of Elders with members of the communities around our campuses in Bundoora, Bendigo, Shepparton, Albury-Wodonga, and Mildura. This advisory group will provide strategic and cultural advice to the University on Indigenous access, participation and success in education, research, and employment – and will be aligned with the principles of voice, treaty, and truth. It's a significant step toward fostering a campus environment where every voice is heard.

Commitment to rural health

La Trobe is committed to growing a skilled workforce of regionally-based, qualified healthcare professionals – which is why we’ve committed $170 million to improve the quality and capacity of our health training facilities across our regional campus network.

As part of this, it was exciting to break ground this year to develop new state-of-the-art nursing simulation labs at our Albury-Wodonga and Mildura campus. These labs will provide our students with an immersive and realistic experience where they will obtain job-ready skills and increase their employability.

The impact of this investment extends far beyond the campus. As these students transition into their careers as Registered Nurses, they will be equipped to provide crucial care to those who need it most, with a skill set attuned to the specific needs of regional communities.

Building Bendigo

There are many highlights of our work in Bendigo during my time as Vice-Chancellor, including the great contribution made to the culture of the central Victorian region by the La Trobe Art Institute based in View Street opposite the Bendigo Art Gallery.

I’m especially proud of the investments we’ve made in recent years to give the Bendigo community world-class facilities at their local campus. The Engineering and Technology Building we opened in 2019, which is also home to the Bendigo Tech School, contains state-of-the-art research and fabrication labs and teaching spaces. The Engineering Building was part of a $50 million Campus Transformation Project we implemented over several years that also included expanding the Library and Student Union building at the campus, which doubled the space for learning and studying; a new entry plaza and bus route, providing improved access and a much better student and visitor experience; and new lighting and change rooms for University sports groups and the local community.

Early years alumni returning to campus

For two years in a row now, it’s been an honour to be part of an initiative that has brought our first graduates back to campus.

It means so much to reconnect with our founding alumni – our path breakers – and to hear what they’ve been up to in their lives and careers. These alumni helped to define the ethos and fabric of our University which endures today, and demonstrate the fact that although La Trobe continues to grow and change, our founding mission to be an inclusive university and make a difference in the world remains the same.

At this year’s reunion, it was my great privilege to announce the Early Years Scholarship Fund, which will support access to education for deserving students. The legacy of our Early Years cohort will continue in perpetuity, providing future students with foundations and friendships that will stay with them throughout their lives.

La Trobe continues to excel in global rankings

Over the last decade, it’s been so exciting to see the University improve year after year in the global university rankings.

This year, we maintained our standing among the world’s top 300 universities in the prestigious Times Higher Education ranking while significantly improving our performance in disciplines such as Education, Psychology, Clinical and Health, Computer Science, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences.

We also rose an incredible 74 places to 242 in the QS World University Rankings this year. We’ve improved our position in this ranking by 120 places in the last two years and achieved our highest position since QS became a standalone ranking in 2010 – what a great collective effort.

I am very proud of these results, which reflect the continued efforts of our devoted staff and partners, and the entire University community. It’s a further endorsement of our commitment to deliver a world-class education to all students.

In closing

These are just a few highlights of the achievements I've had the privilege of witnessing and contributing toward during my tenure at La Trobe.

Before I go, let me say what an honour it’s been to serve as La Trobe University’s Vice-Chancellor and President. One of the best parts of this job is seeing our students cross the stage at graduation ceremonies and then move on to the next stage of their lives as alumni. Meeting so many of you over the years – and discovering where your degree took you and what it has meant to have a La Trobe education – has been a very special privilege that I don’t take for granted.

I am a true believer in the mission of our University. That won’t change when I leave my post. I know that my successor, Professor Theo Farrell, also believes in the distinctive mission of La Trobe and will continue to build on what we’ve created together at our great University over the last 55 years. I know that you will also be there, making your own important contributions to the betterment of our world. Theo will build on the terrific momentum we’ve generated through our alumni community and events.

I will continue to take pride in our alumni and everything that you achieve when I finish my term at La Trobe, just as you continue to take pride in our University.

I’d like to wish each and every one of you a safe and happy festive season and thank you once more for your support over the last twelve years.

With best wishes,

Professor John Dewar AO

Vice-Chancellor and President