February 2020

It’s been a difficult year so far – first the terrible bushfires, quickly followed by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China. I will return to both of these below. If you’re like me, then the memories of time off with family and friends are fading fast – 2020 has announced itself with, literally, a bang.

Having said that, I hope that you managed to get some down time – it really is important that we all take regular time out and turn the phone off.

Aiia Maasarwe scholarship

I’m delighted that the inaugural recipient of the Aiia Maasarwe Research Scholarship, offered in partnership with the Victorian Government, has been chosen. The scholarship is for a graduate researcher who is undertaking a project on improving the safety of women and girls. Peruvian researcher Cecilia Bravo Huaynates will embark on a PhD analysing new feminist theories that aim to empower women who have been victims of gender-based violence.

The scholarship is one way that we are trying to honour Aiia’s memory and make something positive out of Aiia’s tragic death. I also encourage staff to consider making a donation toward the scholarship.

Bushfires and climate change

I’ve been heartened by the response to the message I sent to staff on 28 January about the recent bushfires and the University’s role in times of crisis. Many staff have written to me to express their personal support for this mission, and I’m confident that La Trobe can make a real difference. I’ve now published the message as an opinion piece that has appeared in newspapers across regional Victoria. I hope the piece helps to generate some serious discussions about what our nation needs to do to respond to the emergency facing our planet.

I encourage staff to get involved in the Climate Network convened by Professor Katie Holmes and Professor Lawrie Zion, and to register for the talk with Ross Garnaut that the Network is presenting on Wednesday 4 March at Bundoora Campus. Staff at regional campuses are invited to watch this discussion via videoconference.

Also, you can join me on 17 March at Robert Manne’s first Ideas and Society program for 2020, 'Australia’s Bushfire Emergency'.

Hear from guest speakers including Cathy McGowan AO, Professor Michael Clarke and Craig Lapsley. The discussion will be moderated by Professor Katie Holmes with an introduction by myself. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.

Novel coronavirus

You will have seen a number of messages about the coronavirus health alert. We are following the advice of the Department of Health and are keen to ensure students who may be affected receive appropriate levels of support to ensure they can start or continue their studies with minimal impact.

We are particularly concerned about our students from China, many of whom are still in China and who will not be able to travel to Australia for the foreseeable future. This must be a very stressful time for them, and we are working very hard with many colleagues across the University to ensure that their studies are disrupted as little as possible.

For students not directly affected, Semester 1 will commence as planned on 2 March, with Orientation in the weeks before.

I’d like to express my thanks to the many staff who are members of our Critical Incident Team, who meet early each morning to ensure that we are doing the very best we can for the wellbeing of all members of our community. Their professionalism is incredibly impressive – and all staff involved are exemplifying our cultural qualities. You can keep up to date with La Trobe’s response on our website and by reading all staff messages.

Our new 2020 students

The start of the year is, obviously, an incredibly busy time for our colleagues involved in enrolments. I’d like to give a special thanks to those staff who have worked through the University shut down period and for extended hours throughout January.

In 2020, students have shown strong interest in courses leading to careers that are in high demand. These include Nursing, Dentistry, Education, Physiotherapy and Social Work. Our refreshed Arts courses have attracted a 30 per cent increase in applications while other recently introduced courses such as Criminology are proving popular. We have also recorded a 50 per cent increase in applications for our Rural Medical Pathway at our Bendigo and Wodonga campuses . You can read more in the media release.

Like many other universities, La Trobe is facing challenges in the international market as well as a five percent reduction in local VTAC applications. However, our admissions and marketing teams are working very effectively together to ensure that offers convert into enrolments. We have been able to increase our ATARs in many courses while still being ahead of last year in terms of number of local students accepting offers to study with us. This is very heartening.

We have also done extremely well in our Apply Direct scheme for Semester 1, with applications up by 35 per cent for Undergraduate and up three per cent for Postgraduate, and a 37 per cent increase in overall enrolments from direct applications. Again, this is testament to the care, connectedness, accountability and innovation of all the staff involved. We will continue to enrol and welcome new students in the remaining weeks leading up to the start of Semester 1.

Semester 1 Orientation

La Trobe’s Orientation kicks off across each campus from 17 February, running until the start of semester. There are loads of activities and events on offer so new students can acquaint themselves with their teachers, fellow classmates, student clubs and societies, support services and our facilities to make them feel more confident as they join the La Trobe community.

This year, we have revamped our online orientation planner to make it easier for all students to personalise their orientation experience. There has been a huge effort from teams in Student Success and Information Services (IS) to pull this together, and feedback so far has been very positive.

We are also launching our new La Trobe Host program. This has combined our former Connect and La Trobe International Host programs to create a single, streamlined program for our student volunteers on every campus. Hosts will provide commencing students with much-needed peer-to-peer support during what can be an intimidating transition into university. Thanks to our wonderful Hosts for their amazing enthusiasm!

As with every Orientation, this program relies on a huge range of staff connecting across every campus – from Academics and College education teams, La Trobe International, Student Success, Living at La Trobe, La Trobe Sport, the Library, our student associations, Information Services, I&O, Media & Communications, Student Services, Indigenous Student Services and Heads of Campus. It is this ongoing collaboration that makes our Orientation so successful.

Keeping it excellent

Our Student Excellence Academy has gone from strength to strength since it was launched early last year. The Academy is a quintessentially La Trobe endeavour: it demonstrates the extraordinary breadth of interests, skills and abilities amongst our student community and brings together students who excel in academic, sporting, entrepreneurial, cultural, and community-based activity. It gives students priority access to industry networking and work placements, career support, and leadership development programs and seminars.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the Academy students over the last year, and it’s been great to hear them talk about their experiences and ambitions and to see how much they’ve developed under the program. You can watch some of the students tell their stories in this fantastic video.

Best wishes for February.