August 2023

10 August 2023

Welcome to my August blog.

On 19 July, the Minister for Education, Jason Clare, launched the interim report of the Australian Universities Accord review panel. This 144-page document contains five recommendations for immediate action, and about 70 ideas for development of long-term higher education policy. While the five immediate actions are very welcome (including, as they do, the abolition of the 50 per cent fail rule, the introduction of a demand driven system for Indigenous students, and the extension of transitional funding arrangements for universities), it’s the 70 longer term ideas that really piqued my (and everyone else’s) interest.

There isn’t time to summarise the whole report here, but the key to understanding it is a statistic that appears on the first page of the report – that if Australia is to keep up with the demand for bachelors-qualified graduates in the economy, the size of the higher education sector will need to double by 2050. Let that sink in: double in size, from the current 900,000 to about 1.8 million.

An expansion on that scale will require many changes to our current system. For example, much of the expansion will probably have to take place in institutions that don’t currently exist. What will these be? Who will plan for them, and oversee their quality? It will also require a massive increase in participation rates: 60 per cent of the new students by 2050 will have to come from so-called ‘equity’ groups. Above all, we will need an overarching plan for higher education provision that we currently lack.

These are potentially momentous changes, ones that would create an environment in which La Trobe can confidently expect to thrive. We will be making a submission to the Panel in response, which will re-emphasise the points we made in our submission earlier in the year in response to the consultation paper.

There has also been a lot of activity happening closer to home, and I’d like to share a few recent achievements from across the University.

A SHU-in

It was great to be in Albury-Wodonga for our all-staff webinar with PVC Regional Mel Bish, who did an excellent job as host. We had some important discussions about our education and research programs in Albury-Wodonga and the ways we serve the local community, about our Indigenous strategy, and the work being done as part of our Resilient Environments and Communities research theme.

The webinar also featured an interview with Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, our partners in the UK that share a similar placed-based mission to La Trobe as well as a similar student profile. Chris spent a couple of days with us during his visit. He gave an interesting talk about ways to integrate generative AI like ChatGPT into academia and helped to launch our new education partnership with Sheffield Hallam, Siam University, and Nurture Higher Education that will see Sheffield Hallam and La Trobe deliver programs in Thailand.

During the visit, we also held an event to celebrate the achievements of our partnership to date and discuss future directions. We’ve come a long way since we first collaborated on programs in tourism and hospitality. Amongst other activities, we’ve now launched a collaborative Global Security and Society Institute, we’re jointly funding PhD programs, we’ve secured external research funding to examine the management of dementia, and we’ve launched online learning programs in business and health. It’s a great example of what we can achieve when we find partners that share our values and have complementary expertise.

Open for business

Our 2023 Open Day series kicked off last weekend with a huge turnout of 25,000 prospective students and their families at the Melbourne campus on Sunday. Well done to the Open Day teams led by Stacey Farraway and Natalie Ellisdon, and the many staff involved in making Open Day such a success – including our Schools, the Library, La Trobe Sport, Student Recruitment, Marketing, Digital and Insights, Infrastructure and Operations, and University Events.

We had almost 10,000 attendees at 147 School presentations across the day and 5,600 downloads of our new Open Day app that gives prospective students details of events at their fingertips. We also had an incredibly successful marketing campaign leading up to Open Day, with 323,500 clicks through to the University’s website. If we can translate this incredible interest in La Trobe into enrolments for 2024, we’re on track to have one of our best ever enrolment results.

There was also a terrific Open Day at Mildura yesterday, where registrations were up more than 30 per cent compared to last year. Thank you to all the staff who volunteered their time to help prospective students and their families learn more about the great things La Trobe has to offer – whether through delivering presentations or in volunteer roles on the day.

Next up is Albury-Wodonga on Sunday, followed by Sydney on Wednesday 16 August, Shepparton on Saturday 26 August, and Bendigo on Sunday 27 August.

Going green

Last week, La Trobe continued its leadership as a university committed to sustainability with the launch of the University’s inaugural green bond offering. The proceeds of the issue will be used to fund projects in renewable energy, green building, sustainable water and waste management, and terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity conservation. The bond was fully subscribed and has enabled the University to access borrowings on terms that would not otherwise have been possible.

Agricultural progress

Last month, Sue Dodds and Tony Bacic hosted a visit to our AgriBio facilities by Senator the Hon Murray Watt, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and our local member, the Hon Ged Kearney. It was a great opportunity to highlight our capabilities in agriculture and agtech and the work that Tony is leading at the La Trobe Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and Food. The University is also working in partnership with the CSIRO to establish the Australian Food Innovation Centre, that will combine the skills and infrastructure of both organisations to support research innovation, commercialisation, manufacturing, and logistics and help industry partners to develop, test, scale, and commercialise new food and beverage products and access new markets.

Celebrating Islamic art and culture

It was an honour to host the Hon Tony Burke, Federal Minister for the Arts, at our Melbourne campus last month to open an exhibition in the Borchardt Library featuring past winners of the Australian Muslim Artists Art Prize, which is sponsored by La Trobe. The 2022 prize-winning work, a portrait of Dr Jamal Rifi AM by artist Sam Dabboussy, was officially unveiled by the Minister. Dr Rifi travelled from Sydney to see the portrait for the first time. Congratulations to Bala Starr from the La Trobe Art Institute and Kellie Watson from our community engagement team on delivering a stunning event – it was a tangible demonstration of our community impact through our partnership with the Islamic Museum of Australia. The University is sponsoring the Australian Muslim Artists Prize for a fifth time this year. The 2023 winner will be announced next week.

Teacher ready

Joanna Barbousas and her colleagues in the School of Education are national leaders in delivering evidence-based teacher training. They have now been awarded $7.9 million in Federal Government funding to expand La Trobe’s employment-based teacher training program, Nexus, to primary schools. Nexus provides a unique pathway into secondary teaching that enables people to transition from other careers while gaining practical teaching experience in a school setting. It has been incredibly successful in preparing teachers to work in regional, rural, and hard-to-staff schools across Victoria.

The new funding will support a Nexus Primary Pilot program in which 105 aspiring primary teachers in Victoria and New South Wales will work in primary schools in regions experiencing teacher shortage while undertaking the La Trobe Master of Teaching (Primary). Participants will also complete intensive courses including the School of Education’s incredibly popular Science of Learning and Reading (SOLAR) program. The effectiveness of the School’s approach was also featured recently in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In the regions

There have been some important events at our regional campuses over the last few weeks. On 12 July, I was in Shepparton for a sod turn with Senator Jana Stewart to kick off our much-needed Shepparton campus redevelopment. It was followed by an inspiring 2023 La Trobe Fairley lecture on the impacts of climate change in regional Australia with Alan Finkel, former Chief Scientist of Australia. You can watch Alan’s talk here.

Our regional campuses had also been preparing to support delivery of the Commonwealth Games in 2026. Although the cancellation of the Games is disappointing, the Government has committed to retain its overall investment commitment in regional Victoria through a new $1 billion Regional Housing Fund, a $40 million Regional Community Sports Development Fund, a $40 million All Abilities Sports Fund and a $150 million Regional Tourism and Events Fund. La Trobe is working with our community partners in Bendigo and Shepparton to explore collaborative opportunities linked to these programs.

Literary winners

Congratulations to Ann-Marie Priest, whose biography My Tongue Is My Own: A Life of Gwen Harwood, which was published by the La Trobe University Press, has won the 2023 National Biography Award. The judges praised Ann-Marie’s “scholarship and analysis”, “perceptive understanding of an elusive subject” and “creative approach” in her biography of the poet Gwen Harwood.

Our PhD student Akuch Kuol Anyieth was a finalist for this prestigious national literary prize for her memoir Unknown: A Refugee's Story – well done Akuch!

Kicking goals

Like many Australians, I’ve been nervously watching The Matildas early round matches in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It’s a relief to be into the quarter finals and still be in with a chance to play in the final on 20 August at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

Congratulations are also due to the Jamaican women’s team on reaching the round of 16. The team trained at the La Trobe Sports Park at the Melbourne campus – so we can take some credit for their success!

Art on view

The La Trobe Art Institute’s next exhibition, Circles of dialogue, opens on 18 August. Nine artists are responding to a unique work from the La Trobe University Art Collection, Dialogue of circles by Inge King, through works that centre the body in relation to works of public art.

There is also a new façade commission at the LAI building in View Street, Bendigo by James Tylor, who draws from his Nunga (Kaurna Miyurna), Māori (Te Arawa), Anglo-Celtic, Dutch and Norwegian ancestry to explore Indigenous and colonial histories.

In closing

That’s it for another busy month at La Trobe.

Best of luck to all those involved in our Open Days at Albury-Wodonga, Sydney, Shepparton, and Bendigo over the next couple of weeks.