2010 - A great year for La Trobe

In this message I look back at the major achievements and challenges of 2010 and provide an update on initiatives such as the Administrative Change Program, the new staff performance development system and the recent staff climate survey.

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Hello. We've reached the end of another year, a great one for La Trobe, and I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about the collective achievements of our great multi-campus University, and to give you some update you on some ongoing projects and some of the issues that we face.

In August we launched Vision 2015, our new University strategy and that's a clear acknowledgement, both of our history and a statement of what we wish to become in order to succeed in a rapidly changing higher education environment. A great deal of work is underway to ensure that we can deliver on this vision.

And that work is having effects and impacts all across the board.

For the second year in a row, La Trobe has recorded strong growth in VTAC first preferences. Our preferences are up roughly 10% on last year.

Shepparton was the "standout" campus, currently showing a 35% growth in first preferences.

This is fantastic news, it's a clear signal that prospective students really do see the University as a preferred destination for their study.

We can also be very proud of our colleagues for their many achievements. A lot of people in the University have received accolades, both internally and externally over the last year. Here are just a few examples:

Biochemist, Professor David Vaux, was awarded the 2010 Macfarlane Burnet Medal by the Australian Academy of Sciences. The biennial prize recognises scientific research of the highest standing in the biological sciences.

Historian, Professor Marilyn Lake, was elected as President of the Australian Historical Association, the premier national organisation of academic, professional historians.

Educationist, Emerita Professor Gilah Leder, was honoured by the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction for her outstanding achievements in mathematical education, research and development.

La Trobe University Librarian, Professor Ainslie Dewe, was appointed head of the International Association of Scientific and Technological University Libraries.

And our students have won awards too. Tristen Pogue from Bendigo won the Victorian Pharmacy Student of the Year. And this is the third consecutive year that a La Trobe student has won the award which clearly indicates the quality of our pharmacy program.

Students Peter Frilay and Erin Armstrong are the first La Trobe students to win the Prime Minister's Australia Asia Award, providing them with funding to study and complete an internship in Asia

We've also been building the University this year and there's a lot of physical evidence we can see around our campuses that La Trobe is growing.

The new $11 million Shepparton Campus has just opened. This modern facility has really been embraced by the North East of Victoria as a showcase of regional higher education and reflects La Trobe's commitment to regional Victoria.

We released Master Plans for the Bendigo and Melbourne campuses which show where we can build structures and expand our existing teaching and research facilities.

AgriBio is in an advanced state of construction and you can now see the shape of this building which will house 400 staff at the Melbourne campus. AgriBio is a $288 million investment from La Trobe University and the Victorian Government's Department of Primary Industries and it will be the biggest agricultural bioscience research and development facility in Australia.

A new, centralised Student Hub is ready to open on the Melbourne Campus. This facility brings together a range of student administration and other services previously dispersed across the campus.

The Borchardt Library recently revealed its extensive renovations. Students quickly took to using the advanced collaborative learning facilities and now enjoy one of the best environments for group study anywhere in Australia.

Just a couple of weeks ago the Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre opened on the Melbourne campus. This new Centre, one of only six in Australia, draws together best practice models of learning and intervention of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

And, we are about to commence construction of additional student accommodation on our regional campuses to help meet increased demand, including a $16.5 million project, providing up to 200 Bendigo students with brand new accommodation.

Also, following very intense planning throughout 2010, construction of the other components of the La Trobe Rural Health School – specifically, the new Health Sciences Building and the Clinical Teaching Building – will commence at the Bendigo Campus early in 2011, as will the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences Building at the Melbourne Campus.

Of course teaching and learning are a core part of the University and key tasks in the major curriculum reform which commenced last year are now nearing completion or have already been completed. These include mapping all undergraduate course structures, designing (or re-designing) first year "cornerstone" subjects, and developing a comprehensive first year experience plan to ensure comparable experiences across Faculties and Campuses. And, I should add, the introduction of a new Learning Management System, Moodle, in 2011. it's very important that all teachers undertake training for that new system before the semester begins in late February.

A number of new courses have come online and are being offered for 2011. These include:

  • Australia's first online Islamic finance course
  • New degrees in Sports journalism
  • Event management
  • A new Bachelor of Philosophy, Politics and Economics and of Early childhood education, and
  • New undergraduate degrees in Primary and Secondary teaching, offered for the first time on the Melbourne campus

We've also developed new teaching facilities. The Nursing and Allied Health Clinical School opened at the Alfred hospital. This new state-of-the-art teaching, research and clinical facility represents a new phase in the preparation of nurses and allied health professions.

And also in Health Sciences we've opened a $700,000 world-class anatomy teaching facility at the Bendigo campus.

I can't possibly cover all of the research achievements and high profile publications from La Trobe over the last year but here are a few highlights:

The Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society released a research report which contains the results of a national study on 3000 same-sex attracted teenagers aged between 14 and 21.

Professors Marilyn Lake (History) and Professor Leann Tilley (Molecular Sciences) were among only 30 scholars nationally to be awarded Australian Professorial Fellowships.

As part of a $4 million project, the La Trobe Centre for Technology Infusion is developing technology designed to have cars and trains 'talking' to each other, potentially saving an average of 37 lives every year and an estimated $100 million by eliminating rail crossing crashes and collisions, particularly in rural and regional Australia.

As part of the Department of Health and Ageing's $6 million of grants for dementia research and education, $2 million will extend the work of the Victorian and Tasmanian Dementia Training Study Centre based on La Trobe's Melbourne campus.

The Centre for Sport and Social Impact was awarded half a million dollars by VicHealth as part of the project on creating healthy sporting environments.

We're also doing work in the University to promote sustainability. We aim to introduce sustainable principles and practices into everything we do. We took a big step this year in that direction with the appointment of Australia's first Pro Vice-Chancellor for Sustainability, Professor Carol Adams

La Trobe was awarded Fair Trade University status by the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. This made La Trobe only the third Australian university to have been awarded such status. And it helps producers in developing countries through improving their terms of trade.

The Office for Sustainability in the University is now establishing ambitious environmental, social and economic targets for La Trobe which will promote sustainability in all areas of the University. These will be published in the University's inaugural Sustainability Report in early 2011.

Of course the staff of the University are the core of the University and we're always trying to improve the conditions for staff and we always strive to attract and retain the best people. This year we initiated free WorkHealth checks for staff as part of a Victorian Government initiative. WorkSafe Victoria's WorkHealth program aims to improve workers' health by identifying risk factors relating to common chronic diseases.

In a demonstration of a family friendly ethos of La Trobe, we initiated 'Children's Day' which was really enthusiastically received by staff and their families at Bendigo and Melbourne.

We also launched the ALLY support network for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex students and staff which is another demonstration that we really want to be an accepting and inclusive place to study and work.

So we've done a lot in the University and we've also been trying to shout about some of our achievements. By a whole range of measures we've done exceptionally well in promoting the University this year.

La Trobe produced nearly 500 different stories for the media, including media releases, videos, opinion pieces and podcasts. Excluding the numerous online reports, this translated into over 8,000 articles in the local, national and international media which gave a really positive view of the University.

Just one year after establishing a presence on Apple's iTunes U there have been over one million downloads of La Trobe's podcasts, making us one of the most successful Australian universities in this medium.

We've been working to build and maintain good relationships with our communities, and our alignment with relevant businesses and organisations is a key priority for the University. Let me give you a few highlights from this year:

The A-League soccer newcomers Melbourne Heart established their administration and training base at La Trobe University's Melbourne campus.

The University was closely involved in the "Unlocking Sunraysia's Potential" forum which was conducted at the Mildura campus in July. This forum saw integrated contributions from diverse sectors, including Health, Education, the Department of Justice and the community in addressing social disadvantage among young people in rural and remote communities and how they deal with consequences of isolation and low expectations.

The Ideas and Society program continued its successful series of public lectures and seminars with 10 events with high profile speakers including Tim Flannery, Bob Brown and Malcolm Fraser.

The University received a major award from the Business-Higher Education Round Table for its civil engineering partnerships and scholarships program which is run in partnership with the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, The Pratt Foundation and other supporters.

Within the University we've been doing more work in terms of change. The Administrative Change Program is drawing to a close after 2 and half years of review and reform.

The key objectives of this Program were:

  • to improve our administrative, professional and technical services to better support our academic endeavour;
  • to reduce administrative and professional "silos", to better develop and integration of services; and
  • to build and embed a culture of customer service.

Significant change and improvement has been achieved. Nine out of the ten functional reviews have been completed with implementation now underway.

From the perspective of our broad program of organisational reform – while we have achieved a lot - there is still more to do. We need to evaluate what's been achieved so far. We need to consolidate and fine tune some of the changes that have been made. We need to improve some of our back-office systems and processes and we need to focus on service improvement – both practical service provision and the service culture within the University.

Of course a program like this is always evolving. Continuous improvement is a key to the University achieving its strategic vision

In line with our commitment to attract, develop and retain and reward our top quality staff we have reinvigorated Performance Development at La Trobe.

This will introduce a common performance cycle which aligns with the University's planning system and has a focus on career development opportunities for all staff.

We've been asking staff what they think about the University and we recently undertook our second Staff Climate Survey. Thanks for participating in this. Do please have a look at the results which are now available on the intranet.

These results indicate that there have been marked improvements over the last two years with particular changes around knowledge of and alignment with the organisational objectives of the University.

But the results also reveal that we've still a lot more to do to make this a more effective university and a better place to work so we'll certainly look at ways to address all the issues that have been identified.

Let me finish by saying thank you to everyone for your continued commitment and contribution to the University, to our students and to our communities.

Take care over the summer break; enjoy the company of your family and friends and I'll see you in the New Year.