December 2019

This is the last edition of my blog for 2019, so I’d like to share with you some highlights of the year. It is intended to be illustrative rather than exhaustive, and to give a flavour of the year across our core areas of activity.

Remembering Aiia Maasarwe

It’s impossible to look back on 2019 without reflecting on the tragic death of Aiia Maasarwe at the beginning of the year. Everyone in our community was deeply moved by this tragedy but was able to find some comfort in the way that we came together to share our grief and anger at Aiia’s murder. The response from our students was incredibly impressive, particularly the student-led tribute in the Agora. The University also accelerated the introduction of security measures including improved lighting around campus, and we were very pleased to partner with the Victorian Government to establish the Aiia Maasarwe Scholarship in honour of Aiia. We’ll be selecting the first scholarship recipients later this month. I encourage staff to consider making a donation toward the scholarship.

I’d also like to acknowledge the staff who helped to coordinate the University’s response to the many complex issues that this terrible incident raised – ranging from liaison with Victoria Police, supporting and counselling students and staff, increasing security on campus, and dealing with the media. I know that many of these colleagues were themselves extremely distressed by what happened yet carried on doing their jobs with supreme professionalism. I would especially like to thank Robyn Harris for leading our Critical Incident Team so effectively. Robyn was supported by many staff. It’s not possible to name all of the staff who helped however I’d like to thank Claire Bowers in the media team, Sam Wishart from Infrastructure and Operations, and Kelly Smith and Joanna Shaw from La Trobe International. I also know that many staff across the University informally provided support and advice to students and to colleagues. It was a team effort to support one another, students and members of our local community.

Research Excellence

This year we welcomed Sue Dodds and Megan Fisher to La Trobe to lead our research and industry engagement portfolio. Their first year with us ended on a high with some great results in the ARC funding rounds announced over the last few weeks. La Trobe researchers won almost $7 million in ARC Linkage, DECRA, Future Fellowship and Discovery Projects this year. Congratulations to all of the researchers who received funding.

During 2019 we were awarded $3.5 million from the Medical Research Future Fund schemes, the School of Education was granted $6.3 million for education innovation under the Government’s Nexus program, and we were successful in receiving $6 million in research funding from the NHMRC. We also saw growing success in philanthropic funding during 2019, with La Trobe researchers receiving support from The Mason Foundation, The Wicking Trust, and The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

We also advanced our industry engagement program this year. Wintermute Biomedical moved into our new Research and Innovation Precinct on the Melbourne campus, our Centre for Technology Infusion formed the Asian Smart Cities Research and Innovation Network with partners in India, and the La Trobe Institute for Food signed a $2.3 million research partnership with PepsiCo to conduct research on grain quality.

During 2019 we also strengthened our partnerships with the State Library of Victoria, Islamic Museum of Australia, Cisco, Microsoft and NAB. And the La Trobe Accelerator Program received funding from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to establish the La Trobe University Global Markets Accelerator Program to boost growth and commercialisation potential of Australian start-ups, particularly in those areas where the University’s regional campuses are located.

A project led by researchers from the University’s Judith Lumley Centre won a 2019 Victorian Public Healthcare Award in the category Improving Aboriginal Health, an app developed by researchers from the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre won the BHERT Award for Outstanding Collaboration for National Benefit for 2019, and we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the La Trobe Rural Health School, which provides an extraordinary example of impactful research.

All of this activity helped us to maintain our position in the top 400 universities in the world according to the major global rankings. During 2019 we also achieved our highest position in a decade in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 – placing 291 in the world.

Learning and Teaching

During 2019 Jess Vanderlelie and Nicki Lee were appointed to act as DVCs in our new DVC Students and DVC Education portfolios, and have respectively commenced work to continue supporting our students and to lead development and implementation of our institutional strategy to transform the La Trobe educational offer, known as Clever Learning. The team will be able to build on some of the innovative cross-disciplinary courses we launched this year, including Australia’s first Bachelor of Humanities, Innovation and Technology, and our Master of Internet of Things being offered at the Bendigo campus from next year.

We’ve made good progress on supporting student success during the year. We’ve improved the process used by students to provide feedback on subjects, and the way that we respond to feedback. We’re using the latest data analytics methodologies to identify students who need extra support, and have advisors in place to help them. We’ve established co-LABS so that students can work on business challenges within the University, giving them real-life work opportunities. And we’re piloting a program for students to mentor staff.

Our Chemistry Capstone Team received a prestigious Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning in the Australian Awards for University Teaching. We also established the La Trobe Excellence Academy that reflects the extraordinary breadth of interests, skills and abilities amongst our student community. And our new Student Communications team has had a big impact across student social media channels.

We’re beginning to see the fruits of activity across the Learning and Teaching portfolio, with Student Feedback on Subjects scores steadily improving across the University, improved retention outcomes, and our graduates’ reputation for their skills and work readiness.

Richard Speed has also brought energy and enthusiasm to his new role as DVC International, and under his leadership we can expect the University to continue building research and student exchange partnerships around the globe. I’m sure that Richard will make the most of the extraordinary promotion of La Trobe in India that followed the visit by philanthropist, producer and actor Shah Rukh Khan in August to receive an Honorary Degree.

Government engagement

We continued to engage with Government, Departmental and other partners during the year. We were particularly pleased to welcome the first cohort of students in our Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Medical) at Bendigo and Albury-Wodonga. These students will transition to the University of Melbourne’s Doctor of Medicine program in Shepparton and be amongst the first medical graduates to have completed all of their training in regional areas.

During 2019 we welcomed Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan to our Melbourne campus to launch our ARC Industry Transformation Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture, and we hosted Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack at our Shepparton campus following the announcement of $5 million in Federal Government funding to extend our Shepparton campus building. Jaala Pulford, the Victorian Minister for Roads, visited the Melbourne campus to announce trials to improve vehicle and numberplate identification being conducted by La Trobe’s Centre for Technology Infusion, and La Trobe alumna and Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, opened the new Engineering and Technology Building at the Bendigo campus.

Our Research Centre for Future Landscapes received $1.45 million under the Federal Government’s National Landcare Programme for its work on sustainable farming practices. And we won 94 Federal Government Destination Australia scholarships valued at $5.5 million to help attract and support international and domestic students to study at our regional campuses – more than the number of scholarships awarded to any other university in Australia.

Our people

In a sign of La Trobe’s excellent reputation across the sector, La Trobe scholars received some extraordinary accolades this year.

To name a few, Jim Whelan was elected to the Australian Academy of Science; Catherine Chamberlain won The Lowitja Institute’s Research Leadership Award; Katie Holmes was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia; and Mishel McMahon was awarded both a Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research and a prestigious Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership.

Natalie MacDonald was named one of Victoria’s Top 50 Public Sector Women for 2019; Christine Bigby was appointed to the inaugural Victorian Disability Worker Registration Board; and Professors Richard Simpson and Suresh Mathivanan from the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) were included in the prestigious 2019 Highly Cited Researchers list published by the Web of Science Group.

Public scholarship

It was another great year for the Ideas and Society Program and the Bold Thinking lecture series, which continue the great La Trobe tradition of taking ideas outside of the academy and engaging with the community on issues that affect us all.

In 2019 Bold Thinking featured La Trobe experts alongside some of the nation’s most prominent figures at a series of sold-out events. Bold Thinking considered issues such as post-truth politics, the limits of sporting excellence, social change and children’s books, human-animal relationships, and Australian drinking habits.

The Ideas and Society program celebrated its 10th year in 2019 with The La Trobe Debates expertly curated by our Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Robert Manne. Rob presented a series of discussions on some of Australia's most significant yet polarising issues. To name a few of the topics covered this year, Hugh White and Clive Hamilton discussed how Australia should respond to China’s rise; Clementine Ford, Teela Reid and Petra Bueskens discussed what type of feminism we need today; Julian Burnside and Frank Brennan talked about refugees who come to Australia by boat, and were joined on skype by a Manus Island detainee, Kurdish writer Behrouz Boochani; and Bill Kelty and Jennifer Westacott considered whether trade unions help or harm Australia’s economy and society. The debates were also broadcast on the ABC Radio National program Big Ideas.

The La Trobe University Press (LTUP), our publishing partnership with Black Inc., continued to attract authors of the highest calibre and publish books of high intellectual quality, substance and originality. In its first three years the Press has published some of the key players in the important unfolding debate about Australia’s role in China, and this year published Hugh White’s How to Defend Australia.

In 2019 we also published Ross Garnaut’s road map for Australia to become a leader in low-carbon energy, a book on the history of song, and two excellent books by La Trobe scholars: an account of the impact of gold mining on the land by Susan Lawrence and Peter Davies, and Dominic Kelly’s analysis of conservative political activism in Australia.

The LTUP Australian Thinkers series is also establishing a formidable back catalogue, with volumes so far devoted to Donald Horne, Hugh Stretton and George Seddon. Editions celebrating leading women thinkers are planned for 2020.

In 2019 a book published by Text Publishing by our brilliant historian Clare Wright, You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World, was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. And the podcast series Emperors of Rome, which is presented by Rhiannon Evans and Matt Smith and has been downloaded more than one million times, was named the best Australian History show of 2019 by Apple Podcasts.

Developing our culture

We continued to embed the La Trobe cultural qualities in our work during the year, and progressed several initiatives that are aligned with the University’s values. This included activity associated with our Culture Strategy, Diversity and Inclusion Plan and Gender Equality Blueprint. We implemented a Cultural Influencers Program and Gender Diversity in Leadership Program. One of the year’s highlights came in September when the University received an Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award from Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) in recognition of our significant and ongoing commitment to gender equity.

La Trobe has also stood out as a sector leader this year for our plan to become Victoria’s first zero emission university. We’ve already rolled out 3,000 rooftop solar panels at our regional campuses and we’re installing another 7,000 panels at Bundoora. We’ve been shortlisted for the Green University of the Year Award in the 2020 Asia-Pacific Triple E Awards, the only Australian university amongst the five finalists. As well as our Net Zero program, we’ve been recognised for student participation in the La Trobe Essentials Sustainability Thinking project, the Nangak Tamboree eco-corridor established as part of the University City of the Future on the Melbourne campus, and our commitment to fully divest from fossil-fuel related company investments and commit to greater transparency of the carbon footprint of companies held in our investment portfolio.

University City of the Future

We made significant progress on our University City of the Future project during 2019. Phase 2 of the Sports Park will be completed early in the New Year, and it has been terrific to watch the Student Accommodation building being constructed behind Glenn College. We’re using the latest sustainable building methods and it’s the largest mass timber construction project of its kind in Victoria.

The University City of the Future will turn our campus inside out, transforming the way we work with and serve our communities. One of its explicit aims is to generate economic activity and employment in the surrounding community. It’s one way that La Trobe is embracing change in ways that can strengthen our role in the community and help us to remain a valued and relevant institution. During 2019, I’ve been involved in a project at the 21st Century Lab hosted by the University of Lincoln in the UK that has developed a manifesto for this new kind of university, which is being called “the permeable university”. I encourage you to read the manifesto, which you can download here.

Thank you from the students of La Trobe!

Finally, I’d like to thank staff who participated in this year’s Staff Giving campaign. This year staff have collectively raised enough to fund 10 new scholarships for students in need. Your generosity made the 2019 Staff Giving Month in October our most successful campaign to date, increasing the amount raised last year by 170% and cementing our program as one of the most successful in the country.

I’d also like to congratulate staff at the Mildura campus on winning this year’s Staff Award for contributing more to the staff giving campaign than any other campus on a per capita basis. The Shepparton campus is not far behind, being recognised as the most improved campus for staff giving over the last 12 months. Congratulations to all staff involved in these fantastic results.

Thanks for your support – it really does provide life-changing opportunities for students. If you have not yet done so, I hope you will join me in signing up to the campaign.

In closing

As you can see, it’s been another huge year for La Trobe. I thank all of you for your hard work and dedication in helping us to achieve so much during the year. If you missed the Staff Awards presentation on Monday, you can watch the fantastic opening video that gave a high-energy summary of the year at La Trobe in three and half minutes!

To our students, staff, alumni and all members of the extended La Trobe community, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support in 2019 and to wish you and your families a happy and safe festive season.

I look forward to working with you all in 2020 to take La Trobe to even greater heights. In the meantime, have a good break.