December 2021

I think we’d all agree that the last two years have been incredibly difficult. COVID-19 has not only had a deep impact on the University; it has also had a profound effect on all of us, on our friends and families, and on the community.

As 2021 draws to a close, we can nevertheless look back with great pride at the way we responded to the pandemic. We all demonstrated fantastic commitment to our students, to supporting our communities and to sustaining our research as best we can. I’d like, once again, to thank you all for your extraordinary efforts. I think we’ve all learned a lot – about ourselves, our motivations, and about those around us; and the multiple factors at work in people’s lives affecting their response to lockdowns.

It has been fantastic to see our students, their friends, and families, enjoy their graduations on the Bendigo campus last week. Our last Bendigo graduations were in early 2019, so it was an emotional moment for those of us lucky enough to be there. Thanks, once again, to our wonderful events team, we were able to do it in style, and with much joy. Our Bundoora graduations start next week.

I’m also excited to report that we have started to welcome back some of our international students over the last week, with a small number of students from Singapore and New Zealand the first to return to campus. Once Australia’s borders reopen on 15 December, we will begin to welcome our international students back in greater numbers.

It’s also been a real pleasure to meet up with colleagues in person over the last couple of weeks and feel the positive energy returning to our campuses. Seeing colleagues again after so long has reminded me of what we have missed in working remotely.

Our Staff Awards event yesterday was a terrific opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate some of the many incredible achievements this year. Congratulations to everyone who won an award and to all who were nominated or highly commended, and thanks as well to everyone who took the time to nominate their colleagues.

The work we’ve done over the last two years means we will safely navigate what remains of the financial impacts of COVID and thrive as we come out the other side. It is with great sadness that we say farewell to some colleagues later this month; but for those of us returning next year, I firmly believe we will enter one of the defining periods in La Trobe’s history. It’s hard not to feel positive about the months ahead.

Our excellence was recognised on the global stage again this year, with La Trobe ranked 216 in the world by the Times Higher Education world university rankings, our highest ever position on this measure. We also moved up 23 places to 301 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (our equal highest place), and rose 36 places to 362 in the QS rankings. We can all be very proud that La Trobe is rated so highly.

While there is no doubt we are a world-class university, we are also a university for the world. La Trobe is the Australian university that makes a profound and positive impact on society. I’m incredibly proud that in 2021 we were ranked fourth in the world for a second consecutive year in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings that assess institutions for their contribution toward the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. It’s a wonderful achievement that reflects the amazing impact we all have through our teaching, research, engagement, and operational activities.

In my final blog for 2021, I’d like to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of so many of our colleagues at La Trobe. While many of the staff mentioned below are academics, it’s worth remembering that they couldn’t do what they do without the magnificent support they receive from our professional and support staff. We can all take pride in their achievements.

Research excellence

Warmest congratulations to Sue Dodds, James Walker and Richard Cosgrove who were recently elected as Fellows of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, with Archaeology alumni Glenn Summerhayes and Gaye Sculthorpe elected as a Corresponding Fellow and Honorary Fellow respectively. It’s wonderful to see La Trobe’s longstanding strength in the Humanities continue today.

Congratulations also to Richard Simpson, Suresh Mathivanan and Wei Shi on being named Highly Cited researchers. Brian Abbey might also join this distinguished list in the near future, after the research behind the NanoMSlide project he has led for the last five years was published in Nature this year.

Cheryl Dissanayake, Anthony Lyons, Jennie Pryce and Richard Simpson were named National Field Leaders by The Australian in 2021, maintaining their place in the vanguard of their disciplines.

And it was a big year for one of La Trobe’s luminaries, our Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Dennis Altman, who was named the 2021 Eminent Scholar for LGBTQA research by the International Studies Association and the winner of the Shivananda Khan Award for Extraordinary Achievement at the 2021 Asia Pacific HIV, Equality and Rights (HERO) Awards. I’m sure that all of us are very proud of everything that Dennis has achieved during his career.


Funding success

Our researchers also performed very well in this year’s Australian Research Council (ARC) funding programs, which are incredibly competitive. Cheryl Dissanayake, James Van Dyke, Ryan Phillips, Chris Pakes, Alex Schenk and their research teams won Linkage grants; Adrian Farrugia and Marc Trabsky won Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellowships; and Yuning Hong and Michael Livingston won Future Fellowships. Congratulations to everyone involved in securing these prestigious grants.

La Trobe researchers also won their fair share of health and medical research grants during the year. Andrew Scott, Eliza Hawkes, Niall Tebbutt, Della Forster and their teams were awarded $5.97m from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF); Hamsa Puthalakath, Lisa Mielke, Robin Anderson, and Delphine Merino were awarded $2.9 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Ideas Grants scheme; and Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar and Adam Culvenor won NHMRC investigator grants.

Lisa Brophy and her research team were awarded $10m from the NHMRC Special Initiative in Mental Health to establish a national research translation centre to improve health outcomes for Australians with mental illness and help to reduce the individual, social and economic inequities associated with current care. Congratulations to Lisa and her colleagues on securing one of these very elusive grants!

Some of our other grant successes this year included James Van Dyke, who won a Federal Citizen Science Grant to involve members of the community in work to conserve turtle populations; Andrea Carson, who won a Women’s Leadership Institute Australia Research Fellowship; and Erica Randle, Russell Hoye and Pam Kappelides, who won Victorian Government Change Our Game Research Grants for their projects that will help in identifying the barriers to women and girls becoming involved in sport and active recreation.

We also showed our bourgeoning expertise in digital and cyber fields, winning $2.35m from Commonwealth Government’s Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund to work with industry partners to improve Australia’s cyber security capability by addressing cyber security skills gaps.

Finally, we were very pleased to award the 2021 Tracey Banivanua Mar Fellowship to Sallie Yea, a Human Geographer based at our Albury-Wodonga campus, for her work that is examining human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the global seafood industry and other sectors.


Award winners

Numerous La Trobe people received awards and prizes in 2021 that recognised them for excellence in their fields.

Kim Johnson won the 2021 Jan Anderson Award for outstanding research from the Australian Society of Plant Scientists; Reem Joukhada won a 2021 Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum Early Career Award for her research addressing global food insecurity;  Erinna Lee won the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Shimadzu Research Medal that is awarded to an outstanding Australian biochemist or molecular biologist; and Jennifer Wood won a Jim Pittard Early Career Award from the Australian Society of Microbiology that is awarded to distinguished contributions by scientists in the early stages of their career.

Kay Crossley was recognised for the astonishing impact of her work in mentoring the next generation of sport and exercise scientists, winning the Excellence in Graduate Research Supervision Award at the 2021 Australian Council of Graduate Research Awards; while Aleicia Holland won not one but two awards: the Australian Freshwater Sciences Society Early Career Excellence Award and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Early Career Researcher Medal. 

Brooke Patterson was selected for the 2021 Fresh Science program that provides media training for early-career scientists; Lilian Pearce won the Australian Academy of Science Moran Award for History of Science Research; and Jennifer Jones, Kacey Sinclair and Timothy Jones were recognised at the 2021 Victorian Community History Awards.

Well done to all of these award winners – we are very proud to share in your success.


Teaching excellence

I have nothing but admiration for the incredible work of our teaching and support staff during the pandemic. You’ve done an amazing job to continue providing our students with the best possible learning experience.  

It was terrific to see their hard work recognised during the year when La Trobe recorded the greatest improvement of any Victorian university for experience of student support during the pandemic in the Student Experience Survey; we improved our retention by 2.3%; and had the largest increase (5.6%) of any Victorian university in full-time employment outcomes for undergraduate students in the Graduate Outcomes Survey.

It’s no wonder we have performed so well on these indicators of learning and teaching, as we have some of the nation’s leading teaching scholars at La Trobe including Amanda Shaker, Darren Henry and Monica Peddle, who were awarded Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning in the Australian Awards for University Teaching this year.

We also had 28 scholars elected as Fellows of Advance Higher Education including Richard Lai, Carol McKinstry, Helen Enright, Deborah Jackson, Ron Knevel, Tracy Fortune, Karin Moses, Evan Robertson, David Wilson, and Helen Yang as Senior Fellows – congratulations to all on being recognised for their professional practice in learning and teaching.

Our short course revenue exceeded $2m in 2021, showing that we are making good progress in expanding the breadth of short cycle subjects and courses we offer. Pam Snow and Tanya Serry performed brilliantly, with 3,200 enrolments in their Science of Language and Reading short courses in 2021.

We also had more than 4,500 subject enrolments in StudyFlex this year, with 24 courses to offer StudyFlex options in 2022; and 18 additional courses were offered online in 2021, with another 28 to be offered in 2022 – well done to Nicki Lee for leading this work so effectively.


Events and public scholarship

No-one works harder than our University Events manager Tory Dillon, who was named the National In-House Event Manager of the Year at the 2021 Meeting and Events Industry Association National Awards – well done Tory!

Our Events team also won the National Corporate In-House Event Management Team of the Year and the National Corporate Event of the Year Award for the GradsFest program, which saw La Trobe be the first university in Victoria to hold a physical graduation experience in 2020, with more than 3,500 graduands attending campus to receive their testamurs last December. 

Well done to Tory and her team including Jennifer La Torre, Holly Evans, Amy Cook, Sara Regan, Aidan Hamilton and Lauren Elliott, and collaborators from across the University who rolled up their sleeves to make 2020 GradsFest so successful, especially Prue Kasby, Emily Razmovska and Craig Appleton.

2021 was another stellar year for La Trobe’s public events and discussions that help our University make such a big contribution to public life.

Our Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Robert Manne presented the Ideas and Society program for the twelfth year in 2021, putting together a series of terrific panels to consider the big issues facing our nation and the world. Events included former Australian chief scientist Alan Finkel and chief councillor of the Climate Council, Tim Flannery, who considered how Australia can cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050; a discussion about Australia’s management of COVID-19 with Stephen Duckett from the Grattan Institute, Raina MacIntyre from UNSW, Michael Toole from the Burnet Institute, and Norman Swan from the ABC; and an event co-presented with La Trobe Asia that saw Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull talking about the challenge of China in a discussion that was brilliantly moderated by Bec Strating and which had almost 6,000 registrations, making it the most popular event ever presented by the University. 

It’s not too late to register for the final Ideas and Society event of the year, which is happening tonight when we’ll be presenting Fran Kelly with an Honorary Doctorate in recognition of her outstanding service to Australian journalism and national affairs, which will be followed by a discussion with Gay Alcorn, editor of The Age, our very own Lawrie Zion, and Fran to talk all things media and politics. 

La Trobe Asia also had a very busy and productive 2021, hosting over 40 public events and assisting our researchers to maintain collaborations with Asian institutions. Bec Strating and her team presented an incredibly successful series of virtual public events during the year involving world-leading scholars in and beyond the La Trobe University community, presenting on topics such as democracy in Asia, the new AUKUS pact, and the question of Taiwan.

The La Trobe University Press, our publishing partnership with Black Inc., continued to go from strength to strength. Books published in 2021 included Ross Garnaut’s influential call to action for Australia to reboot its economy in response to COVID-19, Reset; Barbara Minchinton’s terrific history of sex work in nineteenth-century Melbourne, The Women of Little Lon; Open Minds, a timely work on academic freedom and freedom of speech by Carolyn Evans and Adrienne Stone; China Panic by David Brophy; and an important collection of writings by Inga Clendinnen, one of La Trobe’s greatest historians.


Supporting the community

2021 was also a year when we demonstrated La Trobe’s mission to make a difference in our communities.

I was delighted on Monday to meet with the first cohort of students to transition from our Bachelor of Biomedicine into the University of Melbourne’s MD (Rural) program at Shepperton under our joint Rural Medical Training Pathway. The pathway is one example of how we are bringing our regional mission to life. I was similarly pleased that La Trobe has been selected to deliver regional accelerator programs in central Victoria with funding from Regional Development Victoria and City of Greater Bendigo.

No-one demonstrated our community mission better than Geraldine Kennett, who was a very deserving winner of the 2021 Australian Business Award for Community Contribution for her Leaders in Lockdown program that saw 12,500 people undertake modules from the La Trobe MBA to develop new skills during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angela Taft also led a collaborative project with researchers from Monash University’s XYX Lab and RMIT University that has released a series of gender-sensitive Toolkits that aim to improve the safety of women and girls on public transport.

We’ve also continued to make progress in our Net Zero program this year, providing leadership for the community through our sustainable practices. It’s one thing to have good intentions, but we’re also coming up with some very smart ways to identify areas for action and track our progress. Microsoft recently published a blog post about the amazing work our Centre for Data Analytics and Cognition is doing with them under our La Trobe Energy Analytics Platform (LEAP) that takes a billion data points from 200 different sources and uses AI to help us manage our energy use and emissions.


Infrastructure

Although we faced challenges this year, we also benefited from government investment designed to stimulate economic activity during and after the pandemic. This will support the $23 million Digital Innovation and Bio Innovation Hubs at the Melbourne campus; the $10 million research glasshouses and plant growth facilities; our $5 million Bendigo campus Health and Biomedical Sciences Teaching and Research Hub; and the $101.1 million investment in the new the new home of the Matildas and Rugby Victoria at the La Trobe Sports Park.

It was also gratifying to see some of our recent projects win some important awards this year, including the new student accommodation buildings at the Melbourne campus, which won the Residential Architecture category at the 2021 Institute of Architects Awards; and the new Bendigo Library that was shortlisted in the Public Design category of the 2021 Australia Interior Design Awards presented by the Design Institute of Australia.


Celebrating our students

Our students also won their fair share of awards and recognition this year.

We were very excited to welcome Elia Shugg as our inaugural Dennis McDermott Research Scholar, and look forward to hearing about his PhD research that will piece together his family’s past using multimedia and audio and video interviews so that future generations will better understand their history.

Laurence Cashin won Victorian Student of the Year for Internationalisation; and Justin See won both the International Regional Student of the Year award and the Premier’s Award for International Student of the Year.

Law student Hannah Gandy won a John Monash Scholarship to study at University College London. We are incredibly proud of Hannah, who took an unusual path through her school years and came to us through the Aspire program – and has richly rewarded our faith in her.

And we even have students providing advice to the Federal Minister: congratulations to Sarah Bux, who is studying for a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Media and Communications and has just been appointed to the Higher Education Standards Panel’s Advisory Committee on Admissions Transparency.


In closing

As you can see, it’s been an incredibly productive year at the University in 2021. Your efforts are even more remarkable given the circumstances in which we found ourselves. Congratulations on everything you have achieved.

I am so proud to work at a University where our people care so much for one another, our students, and the communities that surround our campuses.

I look forward to seeing those of you returning next year on campus in 2022. In the meantime, have a fantastic break – you certainly deserve it.

John