April 2015

Hello, and welcome back from what I hope was a restful and enjoyable Easter and semester break.

'Padding up' for an early career highlight

While most of our students are now back from semester break, a small group of them are in India to take part in a new and exciting work placement with Indian Premiership League (IPL) cricket team Kings XI Punjab.

The IPL is arguably the world's most popular and lucrative sporting competition, attracting 174 million television viewers last year and a cult social media following, with 12 million Facebook fans and 1.8 million twitter followers.

Seven of our students studying sports related degrees, including journalism and sports management, will be working behind the scenes with the Punjab Kings XI on a range of activities for the next three months. This is the first time these students have visited India, and there is no doubt that they will learn a huge amount from the experience, as well as developing valuable contacts for their future careers.  For me, this exemplifies what a University education is all about – giving our students life changing opportunities to reach their full potential.

If, like me, you are interested in following their progress overseas, the students will be posting blogs and we will share these links with you via UniNews.

Partnership gives regional students new opportunities

I also recently met with another group of inspiring young people – the 20 recipients of this year's La Trobe University and Bendigo Bank scholarships who are studying and living on our Melbourne or Bendigo campuses.

Under this $720,000 partnership between La Trobe and the Bendigo Bank, students are provided with financial support and free accommodation for three years of study. Our partnership with the Bendigo Bank is now in its second year and is creating opportunities for high achieving students and those who are playing a leadership role in their communities in regional or rural Victoria or southern New South Wales.  For many of these students, the scholarships are the difference between being able to study at University and missing out.

This partnership has generated some very positive news coverage, including this article in the Bendigo Advertiser featuring two scholarship recipients.

Recognition of our staff

A number of our staff have been recognised for their outstanding leadership this month.

Emeritus Professor Anne Mitchell was last month inducted into the 2015 Victorian Honour Roll of Women by the Minister for Women, Fiona Richardson and Premier Daniel Andrews in a ceremony at Federation Square. The Honour Roll recognises the contribution of remarkable women who have demonstrated leadership and excellence in their field of expertise. Anne certainly meets these criteria. She has more than 20 years' experience in the fields of sexual health, education and community development and still continues to make an enormous contribution.

Many of you will know Dr Carol McKinstry as the person who established and continues to co-ordinate the Occupational Therapy course at our Bendigo Campus. What you may not know is that Carol has just been appointed as chair of the Bendigo Football Netball League board. She is the first woman in the 140 year history of the league to take on the job. Warm congratulations to her.

Staying with the sports theme, well done to Lisa Hasker from La Trobe Sport who has just been appointed as a non-executive director of Shooting Australia. Lisa's appointment is a reflection of her expertise in the areas of sports marketing and sponsorship. Shooting is an Olympic sport and Lisa is looking forward to being a part of the team's preparation and planning for the 2016 games in Rio.

Future Ready service improvements for students

Staff in Melbourne and Bendigo will have seen directions on campus pointing students to ASK La Trobe, the new single service point for students that was launched on 5 January. ASK La Trobe provides students with assistance by phone, via the web through FAQs and web enquiries, and at central service counters located in the library in Melbourne and Bendigo. The new counters are more student friendly in design, and in the fact that they coordinate advice to students from Student Services, the Library and ICT.

This new service is a great example of how Future Ready has enabled us to improve the service we provide to students, improve the effectiveness of our administrative operations and ensure consistent service provision. More than 20 individual service counters across the Melbourne and Bendigo campuses have been closed since ASK La Trobe opened for business. We can now help students in one place so that they are no longer 'bounced' between areas of the University. Complex enquiries that cannot be resolved straight away are referred to Business Partner teams in the Colleges.

The new service has been popular, with 58 000 online FAQs accessed, 35 000 telephone enquiries and 1000 enquiries per week at the in-person service counters in Melbourne and Bendigo.

Launching the new service model has had its challenges and staff in Student Services have worked extremely hard to provide the best possible outcomes for our students. The peak period during O-Week and the first two weeks of semester 1 saw a first contact resolution rate average of 86%. Positive feedback from students and parents has shown the value of this new service.I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary work done by Richard Frampton and his team in getting this new service off the ground.

What really happened at Gallipoli?

I encourage you all to attend the upcoming Ideas and Society event in which Emeritus Professor and Vice Chancellor's Fellow Robert Manne will ask - what really happened at Gallipoli one hundred years ago?

His guest will be author and respected UNSW historian Robin Prior, who is the author of Gallipoli: the End of the Myth, along with Carolyn Holbrook, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University and author of Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography.

In this latest Ideas & Society event, Rob is particularly interested in unpacking what it is about the Australian psyche that has led to a failed military campaign becoming viewed as one of the key events in the making of Australian nationhood.

This free event will be held at 6pm on Thursday 23 April at National Gallery of Victoria's Clemenger Theatre. I encourage you to register your attendance.Still on the Gallipoli theme, Professor Chris Mackie and colleagues have put together a podcast series on iTunes called 'Gallipoli and the Great War'. The series looks at many aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, ranging from the archaeology of the battlefield to the role of Australian nurses in WW1. The series is linked to an online subject, for credit, open to members of the general public and to students from other Universities.

Taking La Trobe to Asia

Last month I announced the membership of the inaugural La Trobe Asia advisory board while attending its first meeting at the City Campus.

We established La Trobe Asia last year under the capable direction of Professor Nick Bisley to provide leadership on all aspects of the University's engagement with Asia.

It is a unique effort by an Australian university to focus on Asia with a 'whole of University' perspective and to make Asia a key part of our teaching, research and external engagement. It also reflects our acknowledgment of the important ways in which Asia is changing both in relationship to Australia and to the world in the Asian Century.

The board's creation builds on La Trobe's long history of expertise in Asia. We are one of only two universities in Australia that teaches the major Asian languages - Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and Hindi (the other one is the ANU). We pioneered Asian Studies in Australia and from our foundation developed strong links with universities across the region.

I'm delighted with the calibre of business, government and academic leaders who have agreed to work with us on the board. For a full list of members, read this media release.

Higher education reform stalled – for now

The rejection last month by the Senate of the second version of Minister Pyne's Higher Education reform legislation means that we now face a period of uncertainty. The Minister has vowed to bring the Bill back for a third time, probably next month – though at the time of writing, there are no signs that the key crossbenchers are likely to change their minds about the central principle of fee deregulation. Indeed, many seem to have hardened their opposition.

At the same time, the Labor Party has been clarifying the higher education policy it plans to take to the next election. This will probably include some form of limitation on the demand driven system to ensure adequacy of funding levels, together with more centralised labour market planning and greater accountability for student outcomes.

This signals the end of any shred of bipartisanship in higher education policy. The two parties now occupy opposite ends of a possible policy spectrum – with fee deregulation at one end, and centralised planning and control at the other. The cross bench Senators, meanwhile, are charged with the task of getting their heads around all of the policy options that are now starting to emerge.

What is needed is a circuit breaker that will bring trusted heads together to devise a policy framework that assures the quality of our students' education at a level that is affordable to students and to government. Sadly, there is no prospect of such a process emerging in the near future that anyone will regard as independent of vested interests - even though most people agree that the current system is broken.

The next step in this unfolding drama will be the May Budget, in which the higher education sector may be in for some bad news. After all, the Government has been unable to get any of its budget savings in higher education past the Senate – including the efficiency dividend announced two years ago by the then Labor Minister, Craig Emerson. An obvious target for Government savings will be the spending measures that do not require legislation to cut – many of which lie in the research and student support areas.

But it is also possible that Minister Pyne will be able to argue that reintroducing the Bill for a third time means that notional savings are still achievable – in which case, assuming that the Bill fails again, we may not know for sure what our revenue for 2016 will look like until as late as November. This is an extraordinary way in which to run a sector as vital to the nation as higher education.

I will continue to keep you informed on this issue as details become clearer.

In the meantime, I look forward to speaking with you again at our first Staff Briefing at 12.30pm this Friday.