April 2021

The start of the men’s footy season (not as good as normal footy, and takes much longer, but still quite good to watch) means that it’s also the beginning of Autumn. I hope you’ve been able to take advantage of the beautiful weather we’ve been enjoying.

I hope you’ve also been able to come onto campus at some stage since the restrictions on workplaces were eased. I certainly have, and it’s been wonderful to see colleagues and students return (together with coffee queues) and to watch people greet each other after so long apart.

I’ve also spent some time on the road during February and March, getting out to all our regional campuses. I encourage you to do the same if you can. While I sometimes travel for special events like the recent smoking ceremony outside the new library in Bendigo, we learnt last year that we can work from anywhere. You can travel to meet your colleagues in the regions knowing that you can still Zoom into meetings or work from a hot desk during the day.

Our regional campuses are central to their local communities in so many ways. I’ve been catching up with some of our local partners including health services, local government leaders and the members of our regional advisory boards. It’s also been terrific to meet more of the wonderful students enrolled in our rural medical pathway program in Shepparton and Bendigo.

I’m delighted to say that we’ve enjoyed excellent enrolment numbers at all our regional campuses for 2021. This includes a 25 per cent increase in our Bendigo enrolments, and the highest ever proportion of regional students earning a place in our Dentistry program in Bendigo. Each campus has also done extraordinary work supporting local business during COVID-19. The importance of our regional presence only continues to grow.

There have been some great projects around the University since my last blog, and I’d like to share a few of our achievements with you.

Student support

We all worked hard last year to support our students as best we could. The fruits of this collective hard work are reflected in the latest Student Experience Survey (SES) results published as part of the Federal Government’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT). Despite the upheaval, anxiety and hardship of 2020, the SES results show that most of our students felt well supported by the University. Indeed, La Trobe was one of only two Victorian universities to improve experience of student support during COVID; and we were the most improved Victorian university on this measure.

Congratulations to all of our support teams and teaching staff – I know that you are continuing to work very hard this year, but I hope you can take pride in having produced these terrific outcomes for our students.

Outstanding teachers

Last year we also recorded La Trobe’s best result in the 2020 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT).

Congratulations to Amanda Shaker, Darren Henry and Monica Peddle on being awarded prestigious Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. These are the highest awards in Australia that recognise exemplary work to improve the student experience and enhance learning outcomes. You can read more about their great work here.

In the last two years, we’ve also seen a significant number of promotions awarded on the basis of teaching. Almost 40 teaching focussed staff have earnt a promotion, along with more than 150 teaching and research staff, many of whom are strongly teaching focused, showing leadership at subject, course and discipline level. It is pleasing to see that staff who want to make learning and teaching and the Scholarship of Learning and Teaching the focus of their work are progressing in their careers with us.

Driving innovation

Chancellor John Brumby joined with me last month to welcome Victorian Minister for Higher Education Gayle Tierney to our Bundoora campus to announce Government funding for a Digital Innovation Hub and a Bio Innovation Hub on the campus. The hubs will help us to accelerate research and development by start-ups and SMEs by connecting them with La Trobe researchers, HDR students and infrastructure. These hubs will also bridge a critical gap for small businesses in Melbourne’s north by providing access to lab space and equipment that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

These projects show we can play a major role in supporting industry through the Research and Innovation stream of the University City of the Future. The Bio Innovation Hub will support biotechnology and agri-technology companies to develop breakthrough research and commercial products that simply isn’t possible without access to specialist lab facilities. The Digital Innovation Hub will provide digital solutions that support business transformation and new product design. La Trobe academics will also deliver short courses to help businesses to develop workforce skills in data analytics, cybersecurity and telehealth.

Linking with industry

I was delighted to see that we have also secured $1.53 million under the ARC’s Linkage program to work with industry partners. What’s really pleasing about the projects being funded is the breadth of activity that is being supported: industry partnerships can be valuable for any area of our work. Congratulations to Cheryl Dissanayake, James Van Dyke and Ryan Phillips, who will lead projects that respectively focus on enhancing employment prospects for autistic adults, preventing turtle extinction, and conserving threatened orchids.

Dennis McDermott scholarship

The loss of Dennis McDermott is still being felt across the University, but we’re very pleased that Dennis’ family have given their blessing for the University to honour his memory with the Dennis McDermott Research Scholarship. We will be awarding the scholarship annually to support an Indigenous student to undertake a research degree with us, and I’m pleased to announce that Elia Shugg is the inaugural Dennis McDermott scholar.

Elia is a Meriam (Erub) man who majored in Australian Indigenous studies in his undergraduate degree. Elia’s thesis project is entitled A Blak Family History, and will draw on audio and video interviews done in a conversational style with family members. It will create a multi-media thesis that will create a new kind of family history and an artefact that can be handed down to future generations.

Indigenous Academic Advisor

On 18 March, which was Closing the Gap Day, I was very pleased to receive an email from Jane Mills in the Rural Health School announcing David Copley has been appointed as the inaugural Indigenous Academic Advisor for the School. David is an Aboriginal man of Kaurna (Adelaide Plains) and Peramangk (Adelaide Hills) descent and an Elder of the Kaurna and Peramangk Nations. He has had a long and distinguished career in Indigenous health, and will work as the School’s Indigenous Academic Advisor across all four regional campuses. I look forward to meeting David when I am on one of my trips to the regions after he commences with us later this month.

Ideas and Society

It’s hard to think of a more important issue facing the world than global warming. I encourage you to make time on Thursday 15 April to hear a discussion with some of the nation’s leading thinkers on the best way for Australia to get to net zero. Former Australian Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and La Trobe alumnus Tim Flannery will be in discussion with Katie Holmes, the co-convenor of the La Trobe Climate Network, Lead for the research theme ‘More Just and Equitable Societies’ and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Inland. Sue Dodds will introduce what promises to be a very interesting and vital discussion.

That’s it for another month at La Trobe. I hope you have a great break over Easter and enjoy connecting with your friends and extended family.