August 2020

It is hard to believe July is over already and that we are now in the second half of the year. Aboriginal people call this time of year ‘early spring’ and it’s easy to see why – the wattle is in flower, and daffodils and blossom are starting to make an early appearance.

As we enter either stage three or stage four restrictions for the first time, depending on where in Victoria you live, it’s worth focusing on the things that make us optimistic. This is the focus of a new video campaign launched by the City of Greater Bendigo. Called ‘Voices of Optimism’, the campaign will consist of online events and short videos contributed by the community on the theme of ‘what makes me optimistic’. If you’re looking for some reasons to be cheerful, then I encourage you to check out the campaign’s website here.

One of the things that makes me optimistic is the inspiring example of so many of our colleagues who have truly gone above and beyond in demonstrating our values of innovation, connectedness, care and accountability. I have included a few examples of this in the rest of this message. If there are other examples that you think deserve recognition, please share them with me and I will pass them on.

To all our wonderful staff, once again, thank you.

While almost all of us are working from home, if you feel unwell, please get tested and isolate until results are known. If you do not have personal leave to use in this situation, speak with your manager or contact AskHR for assistance. You can find relevant information on our staff COVID-19 intranet site, and of course, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for the latest advice on current restrictions in Victoria.

Staff wellbeing

As I announced last week, August is our wellness month. Our Health and Wellbeing team are running a series of wellness programs and events throughout August. I encourage you to make the most of the resources on offer, including free access to FlourishDX, a confidential psychological health and safety tool.

In case you missed it, Monday 31 August will be a day off for staff. However you choose to spend your day, I hope you find it restorative. If you can’t take that day for any reason – workload, part time, flex hours, etc – please arrange an alternative date with your manager. The Semester 2 Census date has been changed to 3 September so that the teams involved in supporting students with last-minute enquires have every chance to enjoy the wellness day on 31 August.

I’d also like to mention the wellbeing initiatives led by the energetic La Trobe Sport team. While our sports facilities remain closed, the team have continued to be creative in delivering ‘at home’ workouts for the La Trobe community.

Their current ‘Campus to Campus’ virtual fitness challenge has been designed to cover the distance between all seven of our campuses over three weeks. The challenge is in full swing with around 80 participants so far. I’m assured that the team are on track, having already covered the (virtual) distance between Melbourne’s CBD, Albury-Wodonga, Bendigo, Shepparton and are due to ‘arrive’ in Mildura today! You can join at any time - it’s a team effort and however many kilometres you can contribute will help reach the team target of 3,035km.

Melbourne Open Day goes virtual

Our Events Team got innovative last weekend with the first ever La Trobe Virtual Open Day. In an incredible feat of planning and coordination, the team delivered a huge amount of information to more than 7,000 prospective students and their families using the online platform. Many staff from around the University contributed videos and other content - including Spotify playlists, virtual workouts and campus tours – and took part in live Q&A sessions.

All the best planning, however, was undermined a little by the Telstra network deciding to have a bad day on Sunday morning. But the good news is that all of the material remains online for anyone interested – and we hope that Telstra can tame their weekend gremlins in time for our Regional Virtual Open Day on 23 August.

Online delivery proves a hit with students

The first semester Student Feedback on Subjects (SFS) results are now in and they show that student satisfaction with subjects taught online in Semester 1 of this year increased compared to 2019! This is an incredible result and shows just how much our students have appreciated the great lengths our staff have gone to in order to ensure that their study can continue. Online study is not for everyone, of course, but I think these results show that we can deliver a great experience online to many of our students.

Congratulations to all staff who have contributed to this result and on behalf of our students – thank you.

We want to hear from you

As you will be well aware, we are reviewing many aspects of how we do things at La Trobe so that we can respond to the financial challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare ourselves to be a stronger and more valued University in the future. My SEG colleagues and I are seeking your input into these proposed changes where possible to ensure we capture the input from those who know the University best.

The draft reset strategy, revised to include the first round of staff feedback, was presented to University Council on Monday who expressed their thanks to the staff who contributed so thoughtfully and constructively. The Council’s feedback is currently being incorporated, and a revised draft strategy will be shortly provided to staff for the final round of consultation.

Once finalised, this strategy will set the strategic directions for the University over the next three years, within a 10-year vision. I encourage all staff to review the updated strategy and submit your thoughts.

The reviewed Academic Workload Planning Guidelines were shared with staff last week as we aim to make workload planning fairer and simpler. They have been redesigned in line with the requirements under our Collective Agreement (CA) to support a fair and workable approach to allocation of individualised workloads.

The consultation document along with FAQs and full details are available on the intranet, and feedback from staff is open until 5pm Tuesday 11 August.

The University-wide transformation process is underway and, as part of the Service Delivery and Systems Reform stream, staff have been asked to consider what processes and procedures are common sources of frustration and inefficiency, and for suggestions on how to improve these areas. Ideas on new opportunities and solutions are also welcomed.

It’s not about simply saving money, but also about creating more efficient ways of working between teams and across portfolios.

All responses will be reviewed and, where appropriate, incorporated into the reforms underway. Feedback on this initiative is open until 5pm Friday 14 August and I encourage everyone to contribute, no matter how ‘small’ or minor you may feel your suggestion may be. I share the 1980s example of American Airlines who saved $40,000 a year by removing one olive from each of the salads served in first class cabins. A very minor change that reaped enormous savings - have you got the “La Trobe olive” idea ready to be implemented?

Unprecedented demand for our courses

I’m pleased to report that our Apply Direct enrolments for Semester 2 are up by more than 100 per cent compared to last year. Apply Direct accounts for the majority of our semester 2 enrolments.

One course which has attracted a great deal of interest is the Graduate Certificate in Mental Health, which now has almost 350 students enrolled. This is one of our eight new low-fee online short courses which have collectively attracted over 800 applications from all over Australia in just a few weeks. This demonstrates that we can really succeed where we offer well designed and flexibly delivered programs in our areas of strength. It also reflects the hard work of our Marketing and Recruitment team who have introduced new ways of managing students from enquiry to enrolment – which are clearly working very well.

Congratulations also to Geraldine Kennett from the La Trobe Business School on the phenomenal success of the Leaders in Lockdown program. More than 10,000 participants have joined the free, online program, supporting businesses and individuals impacted by COVID-19. With the Business School talking to participants about opportunities to enrol in La Trobe courses after completing the program, it’s a win/win for the community, the University, and our terrific alumni volunteers who have been helping to deliver the modules.

Short courses are increasingly popular, and Professor Nicki Lee recently announced a new process for the creation and marketing of Non-Award (NAC) Short Courses. We have already received six new NAC proposals, with another seven in the pipeline.

Education Minister Dan Tehan pays visit to our Shepparton campus

Our Shepparton campus head Elizabeth Capp hosted Education Minister Dan Tehan and local MP Damian Drum at our Shepparton campus last Friday.

The Minister was impressed with our teaching facilities at the campus, including the Clinical Learning Unit. He had the chance to hear about some of the great work being done by our team in Shepparton in collaboration with Goulburn Valley Health and other local partners, especially recent work to support the COVID-19 pandemic response.

One of the second-year students in the La Trobe rural medical pathway program, Ella Sprunt, who grew up on a local dairy farm, also met with the Minister. She talked about how much she has valued the opportunity to study and work locally, and prepare for a career in rural medicine. Our students like Ella are great advocates for the work we do in the regions.

La Trobe initiatives

We recently launched the Design and Grow Your Digital Presence course, developed in partnership with Investible and funded by Business Victoria. There were two launches – one in Shepparton with Head of Campus Elizabeth Capp and local business owner, Ingrid Thomas; the other in Bendigo featuring The Hon. Jacinta Allan, Acting Head of Campus Dr Melanie Bish (HOC in Bendigo) and Trudy Ellery (business owner).

Delivered fully online and at no cost to participants, Design and Grow Your Digital Presence will support small businesses across a wide range of sectors with a focus on regional businesses. It is part of La Trobe’s broader joint COVID-19 recovery response plan and is a fantastic example of our partnership with Investible.

Late last month marked an exciting milestone for our Net Zero program, with installation now complete on 7,500 rooftop solar panels across 25 buildings at our Melbourne campus. The renewable power these panels generate will meet up to 50 per cent of our on-campus energy needs, decreasing our CO2 emissions by 4,000 tonnes per year.

This complements the 3,300 solar panels already in place at our regional campuses, which remain on track to be carbon neutral within the next two years. Learn more about the University’s Net Zero goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2029.

Finally, I was pleased to attend the July student listening post alongside our DVC Students, Professor Jessica Vanderlelie. They usually occur monthly on each campus, but July was an expanded virtual event covering all campuses. More than 200 students dialled in for a lively session on our response to COVID19, the reset strategy and a range of topical issues raised by students. I’m unsure if I will be invited back, but I enjoyed the time speaking directly with our students and hearing their concerns.

I’ll leave it there for now. What a month! Thank you again for your ongoing commitment to the University; the amazing work I’ve covered here really is just the tip of the iceberg. Please stay safe and warm.