February 2018

Hello there, and a warm welcome to 2018 which is already shaping up as another exciting year at La Trobe.

O-what a week

Soon, we’ll be welcoming a new cohort of first year students to study with us. Orientation Week for our domestic students commences on Monday 26 February, and the first day of semester is Monday 5 March. La Trobe has a fantastic reputation for being a friendly, supportive and welcoming community, and we can all do our bit to keep it that way. So if you see new students on campus, please say hello and help them in any way you can.

New year – new strategic plan

This year we will begin the all-important work of implementing our new Strategic Plan that will set the foundations of our success over the next five years.

We will ensure we focus our efforts to align with the plan’s four objectives: providing an outstanding student experience, student and graduate employability, research excellence, and being the partner of choice for industry, education and the community. We also will be supported in our work by focusing on the three supporting enablers of operational excellence, a commitment to the concept of one university with many communities, and a growth in University revenue.

The University’s Senior Executive Group spent some time together earlier this year to consider the best ways to focus our energy in 2018, and have set four priorities for this year. We will work to develop an improved international load strategy, to build income in this growing market. Another area of focus will be the further reform of our course offerings to students. We’ll work to develop alternative delivery models, such as executive education programs, to supplement our existing teaching programs. Lastly, culture is vital to a successful organisation and we will continue to work hard to embed our cultural values across the organisation.

Welcome to our new staff

I’d like to welcome all new staff who have recently joined La Trobe. Whether you are a researcher, professional staff member or teaching scholar, I am confident that you will find that La Trobe is a great place to work, with our beautiful campus grounds, excellent facilities, and the strong camaraderie amongst staff. Because so many of our students are the first in their family to study at university, working at La Trobe gives you an opportunity to transform people’s lives, more so than at many other universities.

We continue to attract some of the world’s best researchers and leaders to join La Trobe, which is a testament to our world-class reputation across many disciplines. I’d especially like to welcome Professor Jill Slay AM who has joined us as the inaugural La Trobe University Optus Cyber Chair who comes to us from the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at the University of New South Wales. Welcome also to Professor Phil Dolan, who is the Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. Phil was previously Dean and Professor in the School of Business at the University of Western Australia.

Admissions roundup

Many thanks to the many staff who have worked to attract, enrol and welcome the new class of 2018 to La Trobe University.

Our brand advertising created strong interest with prospective students. We made some tough decisions to lift the ATAR entry point to many of our courses, while also being mindful of striking the right balance to ensure access to a university education. We are still working hard to maximise our enrolments this year, in a highly competitive market, something I’ll update you on in coming weeks once census day has passed.

Back to the future  - RIP the demand driven system

A few days before Christmas, the Government announced that it would be capping government funding of Universities at 2017 levels for 2018 and 2019. The Minister has power to do this under the relevant legislation, without the need to seek approval from Parliament. The Government chose this course after failing to persuade enough of the Senate cross bench to support the Minister’s legislation last year.

This brings to an end the demand driven system that has been in operation, in effect, for almost a decade. In taking this major step, the Minister has chosen to sidestep scrutiny by Parliament, and has taken the sector back to the more centralised regime that operated until the late 2000’s.

It is estimated that this will save the Government about $2.5 bn over the budget forward estimates. It also means, according to Universities Australia, that about 10,000 students will be enrolled this year without Government support.

Needless to say, this is not an outcome that satisfies many in the sector, nor prospective students and their families hoping to get into the degree of their choice. In particular, it means that Universities like ours, who take seriously the task of lifting participation rates in regional areas, will be prevented from doing so for the foreseeable future. It also means that Universities will be discouraged from expanding enrolments in areas such as STEM and Health, because those disciplines attract the highest level of government subsidy.

A reduction in government support has been factored into our budget for 2018, so this will not have any immediate budget implications – assuming, of course, that we achieve our load targets for the year.

We have been lobbying hard in recent weeks to point out the undesirable consequences that will flow from this decision, and will continue to do so.

Bendigo’s future looking strong

Last week, we hosted a planning workshop at the Bendigo campus called Bendigo Futures, which will help to lay the foundations of a shared plan to lift the profile and reputation of the city as a great place to live, study, do business and work.

I was delighted with the response to the workshop, which saw more than 60 university and community leaders come together to generate ideas for how we can further build on our achievements in Bendigo. We will take the ideas produced at the workshop and turn them into a plan for the next stage in the evolution of the campus.

Public lectures

Our public lecture series continues to deal with the issues of our times and offers us an opportunity to hear from Australia’s leading thinkers.

Stay tuned for more details on upcoming Bold Thinking Series panel discussions. Topics will include; the success - or otherwise – of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the growing connections between diet and personal identity, the challenges and benefits of aging and the emerging cyber security issues facing our community. Leading campaigner and intellectual Tim Costello will feature in an Ideas and Society discussion on Australia’s human rights obligations to refugees.

Fundraising target reached – two years ahead of schedule!

Finally, I’m delighted to report that the University has already achieved its initial $50m fund raising target for our ‘Make a Difference’ campaign, launched last year as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. Warmest thanks to all our generous donors and supporters who have made this possible, and to the team in our Advancement and Alumni Office who have led and supported our efforts in this important area. Staff have also made an important contribution through the ‘Golden Lanyard’ campaign over the last three years. The money raised will go to support student scholarships, and to help our research effort in a number of significant areas.

Thank you to all – and a great way to start the year!