August 2015

Welcome to the August edition of 'from the VC's desk'.

And welcome back to the start of semester two. Whether you have been taking a break from the Melbourne winter, attending conferences, preparing teaching or pursuing research projects, or a combination of all of the above, it's great to have you back. Some new students who have started their degrees mid year also join us. The queues to get that morning coffee are now a little longer, but the buzz of activity and enthusiasm is also that little bit louder with everyone now back on deck.

Last week's events in Bendigo
As you know, last week was one of the most difficult for the university in recent memory following the sudden and unexplained disappearance of one of our students studying at the Bendigo campus. Thankfully our worst fears were not realised, and the matter is now in the hands of the Police.

I would like to express my warmest thanks, and pay tribute, to the staff and students at our Bendigo campus, who demonstrated extraordinary compassion, resourcefulness and care in their response to these difficult events. Staff and students from the BSA, the Residences, I&O, Counselling, the Cottage, and many other academic and professional staff across the campus, pulled together in the most extraordinary way to ensure that everyone on campus felt safe and cared for. It is invidious to single out an individual in circumstances like this, but I would particularly like to thank Rob Stephenson for the calm, thoughtful leadership he displayed during those difficult days.

Universities are remarkable places, and last week's events in Bendigo, and the response of our staff and students, proves the point.

The Learning Commons is open for business

One thing different this semester is the opening of the newly refurbished building at the heart of Melbourne Campus.

The building formerly known as Physical Sciences 3 has had something of a transformation – an $18 million one at that – to become the new Learning Commons (TLC).  

What was once a tired and ageing 60's interior has been gutted and replaced with two 100-seat ultra-modern lecture theatres, 16 state-of the-art 40-seat open learning spaces with pod-like tables and multi-panel video screens, as well as numerous spaces for students to meet, learn and talk. The students have already discovered the fireplace on level 4. Even though it emits no actual warmth, it's the overall feeling that counts.

Please take the time to take a look around if you can. It is one of seven older buildings on the Melbourne Campus earmarked for renovation and refit under the University's Master Plan over the next decade.

I'm looking forward to the rescheduled launch of the Bendigo campus Master Plan, which was postponed from last week for obvious reasons.

Bendigo Writers Festival

This weekend, the fourth annual Bendigo Writers Festival will be held, and I am delighted that La Trobe is once again supporting what is fast becoming one of Australia's leading writers' festivals. Every year, the Festival underlines the difference that the University makes to its community.

From this Friday 7 to Sunday 9 August, some seventy events including interviews, debates, film screenings and school master classes will be held across five venues.

The Ideas and Society program will host Saturday night's keynote featuring an 'in conversation' between Emeritus Professor Robert Manne and internationally respected political and social commentator, Tariq Ali, in Beyond Extreme. Professor Jane Long will interview the Chief Executive Officer of Melbourne University Publishing, Louise Adler, in Publish or be damned. I am also looking forward to talking with renowned author of the Tomorrow and Ellie series, John Marsden, in What life teaches us.

If you are located in Bendigo, hopefully you've already booked tickets.  If you live elsewhere, please consider making a weekend of it. For further information about this year's Festival, including a copy of the program and ticket information, visit:

Fairley lecture celebrates the importance of regional Australia

Last month, I was in Shepparton for the annual La Trobe-Fairley Lecture. Now in its sixth year, the lecture series was initiated by Andrew Fairley AM as an opportunity for the Fairley Foundation to partner with the University in demonstrating thought leadership in the local community.

This year's lecture was given by La Trobe alumnus the Hon Andrew Robb AO MP, Federal Minister for Trade and Investment, who talked about the importance of celebrating the contribution that regional communities make to Australian life.

This is something we know much about at La Trobe, as we've seen communities in the regions grow and develop alongside our campuses over the years. The night was a tremendous success and I congratulate Sue Nalder and her team at the Shepparton campus on their exemplary planning in putting the event together.

Algabonyah Economic Roundtable

Another event in Shepparton last month was the Algabonyah Economic Roundtable, which brought together community members and Indigenous leaders with representatives of industry, government, health and educational institutions to consider what is needed to develop an inclusive economic development agenda for the Goulburn Murray region.

There was discussion about the best ways of aligning resources with the aspirations of Aboriginal people, and how to increase Aboriginal engagement in regional growth industries to create sustainable wealth that affirms culture and leads to economic independence.

Education and skills are key enablers of this agenda and, as the major provider of higher education in regional Victoria, there is much that we can do to improve the wellbeing and livelihoods of Indigenous people.

There were some very positive outcomes from the roundtable, including a commitment for La Trobe to work with the University of Melbourne and the Shepparton Chamber of Commerce to develop a business hub for Indigenous businesses in the region; and a commitment for us to work with stakeholders to develop a coordinated Indigenous education strategy for the Goulburn Valley region with a focus on pathways into employment outcomes. I look forward to these initiatives paying dividends in the future.

Quality Equity and Diversity – it all adds up at La Trobe

We've long been known for our commitment to quality, equity and diversity at La Trobe University and now it's official – we are one of the best Universities in Australia ranked on these three measures.     

Dr Andrew Harvey from the University's Access and Achievement Research Unit has devised a methodology for ranking universities on these metrics. The proposed 'QED' ranking table, which was published in an opinion piece in The Australian on 15 July by Dr Harvey and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Long, aims to broaden measures of institutional success and redefine quality to incorporate inclusivity in addition to the current narrow research metrics.

The proposed ranking includes measures of institutional diversity and student equity, in addition to teaching and research quality metrics, to give an overall measure of 'inclusive excellence'. It is designed to present a more rounded picture of how well universities discharge their multiple missions of teaching, research and inclusiveness. I'm proud of the fact that La Trobe University was ranked equal second nationally with Flinders University behind Monash University.  This substantiates our claim to be one of the country's best universities when viewed through the lens of 'inclusive excellence', as proposed in the refreshed version of our Strategic Plan, Future Ready.

Research Matters

I would like to add my congratulations to those who were successful in the recent ARC linkage grant round, announced in early July.

Six La Trobe submissions were funded to the tune of $1.6 million, with industry partners contributing another $2.2 million, with a success rate well above the national average.

Congratulations to Christine Bigby, Jacinta Douglas, Lin Crase, Diane Kirkby, Tanya Fitzgerald,  Helen Lee, Vaughan Prain, Craig Deed, Noel Meyers, Cathleen Farrelly and Adam Schembri on their success; and thank you to the Research office for providing such excellent support to this year's applicants.

The Rhinos are coming

We will soon be welcoming some new permanent residents to the Bundoora campus in the shape of a family of Rhinos – cast in bronze.  Entitled 'Run for your Life', the family of three black Rhinos have been given to us by Wonderment Walk Victoria founder, Eddie Kutner.   Wonderment Walk Victoria is a not-for-profit organisation committed to creating accessible open air galleries of sculptures and installations combining science, mathematics and art to engage passers-by with wonder, delight and curiosity.

The sculptures are being installed on the lawn between the John Scott Meeting House and Glenn College.  Weighing over 1000 kg and measuring 1.4m tall, the bronze Rhino mother is accompanied by two calves, weighing around 600 kg each.  The artists, Gillie and Marc, used images of Dubbo Zoo's black Rhino mother and calves Bakhita and Kufara as inspiration for the sculptures.

The Rhinos add to an already impressive collection of sculptures and installations on the Bundoora campus. We hope to add to this collection over time, and thereby increase the attractiveness of the campus as a destination for members of the community to spend time, as a place apart from the city that surrounds it.

Strategy Refresh – Your feedback sought

Thank you to those that attended the launch of the Future Ready Strategy refresh in Bendigo last month.

If you missed it and weren't able to attend, please visit the intranet page, where you can read the draft document and provide feedback either via an online form or by attending one of the Strategy Refresh feedback sessions currently taking place across our campuses.  Feedback submissions close at the end of the month.

Have a great August.