December 2022

9 December 2022

Welcome to my final blog for the year, in which it has become customary to reflect on our collective achievements during the year.

2022 was the year in which we consolidated our comeback from the pandemic. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far we have come in addressing the challenges thrown at us, and I am amazed and very proud of how the whole University community has pulled together to produce some extraordinary results, many of which are detailed below.

Back in 2020, in our revised Strategic Plan, we said:

Our aim is to emerge as a more resilient, future-focused and necessarily more efficient institution that will thrive in a post-COVID world by being more sharply focused on the needs of our community, and by playing to our strengths in teaching and research.

I am very confident that we are well on our way to achieving this aim. We are investing significantly in our research strengths, and we have redesigned and streamlined our degrees and course offerings so that we can provide students with a better experience. This is starting to show in improved student satisfaction and employment outcomes. All of this is underpinned by a new operating model and an unprecedented level of investment in digital systems. We will end the year in solid financial shape, with a planned budget for 2023 that will see us return to a small surplus – all while paying off debt and investing in the future of the University. This is an astonishing achievement of which every single one of us should be very proud.

We are bearers of an important tradition at La Trobe – a tradition of excellence, accessibility, innovation, and impact. I was reminded of this recently when I attended a dinner with alumni who started their degrees at La Trobe between 1967 and 1972. The group was so pleased to hear that we continue to make a difference through our teaching and research by widening access to higher education to people from all walks of life. There was a similar feeling at the Albury-Wodonga campus 30th anniversary celebration in October, when we saw firsthand the difference we’ve made in the local community.

Our alumni take great pride in hearing about our success – and there were many extraordinary achievements in 2022. To name a few: we reached our highest ever position of 296 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and rose 46 places to 316 in the QS World University rankings, improving our position more than any other Australian university; our physicist Brian Abbey won the Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology; the School of Education’s Nexus teacher education program won the Employability Award in the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Awards; we achieved the $100 million target of our Make the Difference fundraising campaign and set a new target of $200 million; and we received a $45 million donation from the estate of the late Mrs Olga Tennison to support our world-leading autism research, one of the largest single philanthropic gifts to an Australian higher education provider.

As we look to 2023, we can be confident about our continued recovery from the pandemic. We’ve seen strong demand for La Trobe courses through the VTAC system, and even more positive trends in the increasingly important direct application and international channels, with record numbers for the third intake of 2022 and promising signs for next year.

It was great to take part in our Staff Awards ceremony earlier this week and recognise some of the excellent work done across the University in 2022. Congratulations to everyone who won an award or was highly commended for their work, and to all who were nominated, and thanks to everyone who took the time to nominate their colleagues.

I’d now like to celebrate a few more of the year’s achievements. While many of the staff mentioned below are academics, 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 our collective achievements.

Research excellence

We performed very strongly in the various Australian Research Council (ARC) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) schemes this year.

Alison King and Nick Bond won an ARC Linkage Program grant to address the escalating threats to coastal freshwater fish; and Nadia Zatsepin won a prestigious ARC Future Fellowship for her work to find new ways to circumvent antimicrobial resistance.

Benjamin Riordan, Paul-Antoine Libourel, Joel Anderson and Ashleigh Butler were awarded a total of $1.6 million under the ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme.

And last week we received news that the ARC has awarded funding of $5 million for 12 La Trobe projects under the Discovery Project scheme, with our success rate of 25.5 per cent well above the national average of 18.2 per cent. Projects will be led by John Taylor, Madelaine Chiam, Kevin Huynh, Amy Pennay, Jenna Crowe-Riddell, Ivan Poon, Lisa Brophy, Emmanuel Kuntsche, Jinli Cao, Amanda Cooklin, Matthew Meredith-Williams and Jo Lampert, with numerous colleagues participating as research collaborators.

Joanne Kemp, Pamali Fonseka and Anne-Marie Laslett were awarded $3.8 million under the NHMRC Investigator grants program.

And Larissa Trease, Lachlan Batty, Desireé LaGrappe and Hui Tat Chan won grants from the NHMRC Postgraduate Scholarship scheme that supports outstanding health and medical graduates early in their career.

Research impact

La Trobe was named as a leading research institution in Australia in the fields of Developmental Disabilities and Child and Adolescent Psychology in the annual report published by The Australian. Chris Sobey, Kate Webster and Cheryl Dissanayake were named as Australian Research Field Leaders for Health and Medical Sciences, Jennie Pryce for Life Sciences and Earth Sciences, Anthony Lyons for Sex and Sexuality, and Lindsay Carey for Humanities, Literature and Arts.

We can be confident about the impact of our future programs, having established two new research institutes this year: the Care Economy Research Institute and the La Trobe Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and Food.

And we are a partner in the newly established ARC Centre for Excellence in Plants for Space with four other foundational Australian university partners, 10 international universities, and five space agencies including NASA.

Amongst many impactful research projects this year, an international research consortium led by Bill Ballard sequenced the genome of the pure Desert Dingo; Helen McLachlan and Della Forster led an award-winning study of maternity care for First Nations mothers and babies; and the La Trobe University Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre co-presented Australia’s first Women in Sport Congress in partnership with the Australian Institute of Sport.

Leading lights

Some La Trobe luminaries were recognised this year.

Sue Dodds was appointed by Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare to an expert three-person panel to review the role and purpose of the ARC and its supporting legislation.

Cheryl Dissanayake was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and Nicola Stern was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Yuning Hong won the Australian Academy of Science’s Le Fèvre Medal for outstanding basic research in chemistry by an early career researcher; John Morgan won the Ecological Society of Australia’s 2022 Australian Ecology Research Award for outstanding research and significant contributions to ecology in Australia and globally; and Lisa McKenna was inducted into the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame.

Jenny Graves was promoted to the highest possible rank of Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for eminent service to science; and Katie Holmes was appointed as the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Warmest congratulations to all.

Teaching excellence

In a reflection of the terrific work of our teaching and support staff across the University, there were improvements in all the major teaching and student experience scores this year, and on most measures of graduate employability.

It was also a standout year for our teachers, with La Trobe winning five Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning at the Australian Awards for University Teaching – the highest number of citations ever awarded to La Trobe and the most received by any Victorian university this year. Well done to Dana Wong, Daswin De Silva and Katherine Ashman, and the teams led by Laura Whitburn and Louise Lexis.

Partnerships and industry engagement

We appointed Plenary as the preferred Master Developer for the University City of the Future campus transformation project at the Melbourne campus and are making good progress in our discussions with potential major tenants.

We commenced construction of Phase 3 of the Sports Park and work to build the Bio Innovation and Digital Innovation Hubs is well under way.

Tony Bacic is leading a partnership in Mildura with medicinal cannabis company Cann Group Limited that was awarded $5 million from the Australian Government’s Regional Research Collaboration Program for ‘protected cropping’ research and training.

And we made good progress in our partnership with the CSIRO and Victorian State Government to establish the proposed Australian Food Innovation Centre (AFIC) that aims to create a new national facility to support the growth of agri-food businesses, facilitate research innovation and commercialisation, and help develop Victoria’s advanced manufacturing capability.


We opened the 1.9 km shared pathway that runs through the Melbourne campus and is part of a suite of initiatives to enhance and protect the Nangak Tamboree wildlife precinct.

Our Mildura and Shepparton campuses became the first Victorian university campuses to receive Net Zero certification from Climate Active, the partnership between the Australian Government and Australian businesses to drive voluntary climate action.

Making a difference

The new phase of our Make the Difference campaign, that aims to raise $200 million for La Trobe research and education programs, was kick-started with some very generous gifts from supporters who are passionate about what we do.

We established the Holsworth Biomedical Research Initiative that will support Donna Whelan and a multi-disciplinary team in Bendigo to research cancer and genetic disorders such as motor neurone disease; and received a $6 million gift from the Beluga Foundation to accelerate human trials of a pioneering stroke treatment being developed by Chris Sobey.

We received a gift of $1 million from Jim Sawyer to provide a pathway program for students from TAFE to university in Albury-Wodonga; a $600,000 gift from Faye Clarke for scholarships for Early Childhood and Primary Education students; and a gift of $240,000 from Tony Isaacson and Megan Davis for scholarships for care leavers and students with disabilities.

And our Bendigo campus is now home to four wonderful sculptures by leading artist Emily Floyd, donated through the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program and facilitated by Anna Schwartz.

Public scholarship

VC’s Fellow Robert Manne curated one of the strongest programs yet in his thirteen years of presenting the Ideas and Society series. Not many people can persuade Paul Keating to get involved in an event, but thanks to Rob we heard an intriguing talk with the former Australian Prime Minister. Other events looked at Australia’s future in a post-carbon economic world, Russia’s war on Ukraine, the crisis in our nation’s Aged Care Homes, and Australia’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

La Trobe Art Institute is co-presenting the exhibition In our time: Four decades of art from China and beyond – the Geoff Raby Collection that is on at the Bendigo Art Gallery until 19 February next year. The University also sponsored the Australian Muslim Artist Prize for a fourth consecutive year.

It was another strong year for the La Trobe University Press, which continues to publish books of originality and substance. This year’s titles included Frank Bongiorno’s brilliant Dreamers and Schemers: A Political History of Australia; the first collection of Australian poet Judith Wright’s nonfiction; Ross Garnaut’s The Superpower Transformation: Making Australia’s Zero-Carbon Future; and Ann-Marie Priest’s biography of Gwen Harwood, My Tongue Is My Own, which was longlisted for the 2022 Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award.

Barbara Minchinton’s 2021 book The Women of Little Lon: Sex Workers in Nineteenth-Century Melbourne won one of the main prizes at the Victorian Community History Awards; and Sheila Fitzpatrick’s White Russians, Red Peril: A Cold War History of Migration to Australia, which tells the story of the 20,000 ethnic Russians that migrated to Australia after the Second World War, has been shortlisted in the Australian History category of the 2022 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

Finally, we appointed Clare Wright as our inaugural Professor of Public Engagement. Clare has already introduced initiatives including the ‘Writers on campus’ series and has been working on a range of programs for next year that will feature La Trobe experts – stay tuned for details.

In closing

As you can see, it’s been an incredibly productive year at the University in 2022.

Congratulations on everything you have achieved; and, above all, thank you all for your hard work and dedication to this wonderful University. Have a fantastic break over the summer – you certainly deserve it.