July 2020

As we reach the mid-point of the year, I’m sure you’ll agree that 2020 so far has been one of the toughest six months any of us have experienced. It’s likely that many of you are feeling the strain of adjusting to new patterns of life, new ways of working and managing the stress of the uncertainty that affects us all. I hope that the next few weeks will give you an opportunity to take a break and that, if you need to, you make use of the support services available to staff.

Australian Universities Job Protection Framework

As you will be aware, 66 per cent of staff who voted supported the Australian Universities Job Protection Framework (AUJPF). You can read more about the vote outcome in my message to staff sent on Tuesday 23 June.

The text of the Variation is now with the Fair Work Commission and I will let you know as soon as it has been ratified. Subject to that, we anticipate that changes to remuneration will take effect in the pay period commencing 18 July (that is, the pay received 29/30 July). I will send a message to all staff once confirmed.

The vote result means that 225 jobs across La Trobe will be saved. While a positive outcome for those 225 of our colleagues, I do not see this as a ‘win’ but as the consequence of a very difficult choice forced on us by external circumstances. This was a tough decision for all of you, no matter how you voted. I recognise that these measures may cause financial distress for some of you, and I remind you that there is a hardship application process for those who need it.

Our University – and the entire higher education sector – faces many challenges (including, it now seems, from our own Government’s proposed reforms to funding arrangements, on which I will provide more later). The transformation project currently underway, led by Professor Robert Pike, will work to ensure that our reset strategy prepares us for this changing environment over the next few years and positions us well for future growth.

I will provide updates on this strategy as it progresses.

Voluntary redundancies and pre-retirement contracts

An important element of the first stage of our cost-saving measures has been the voluntary redundancy program (VR) and offer of pre-retirement contracts.

Both programs have now been finalised, with the vast majority of those who expressed interest (89%) being accepted. Most of those staff will leave us tomorrow – Friday 3 July – although there are some differences based on local requirements.

I want to thank all of you who are leaving us for your contributions to La Trobe, no matter how long you have been here, and to wish you all the best for your next chapter.

For those of us who remain, it can be a time of mixed emotions. Sadness at friends and colleagues leaving, worry about workloads, and general concerns about our changing environment can all take its toll. Please ensure you use both the Employee Assistance Program and our Be Well Transition Well portal for support and advice during this time.

Federal Higher Education developments

As I discussed in our recent all-staff webinar, Federal Education Minister, the Hon Dan Tehan MP, recently announced a suite of budget-neutral funding reforms to Higher Education under the ‘Jobs-ready Graduates Package’.

The package aims to increase the number of graduates in industries of expected growth and demand; lift educational attainment for students in regional areas; and drive workforce participation and productivity through strengthened relationships between the higher education sector and business.

This is a very complicated package with positives and negatives. We are working through the detail to determine how this will affect La Trobe. While we have concerns about increasing costs to students, and reduced government support per student across the board, we broadly welcome the addition of new places for domestic students, CPI indexation and the focus on Indigenous participation rates. As Victoria’s only state-wide University, we particularly welcome any measures designed to lift higher education participation and attainment for students in regional Australia, which is a big feature of the package.

While there is still a way to go before these changes are legislated, you can read more in the most recent webinar slides.

Backing the regions

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of joining our Acting PVC Regional, Guin Threlkeld, at a series of breakfast meetings with our new regional campus Regional Advisory Boards (RABs). The Boards are an essential part of our engagement at regional campuses, providing us with advice from influential members of the local community, helping us to understand local issues and needs. At each of our campuses, the newly constituted Boards include some very powerful voices in each of our local communities.

As well as helping us to shape our strategic directions and local priorities, the RABs are a valuable source of insights and intelligence on government policy and ways to effectively implement programs in the regions. It’s been a pleasure to meet with some of the dedicated regional stakeholders that are real champions of La Trobe, even though it was by Zoom. I look forward to meeting them all in person at some stage in the future.

Solutions focus for the new National Industry Innovation Network

La Trobe University is a founding member of The National Industry Innovation Network (NIIN). This will see us join forces with Cisco, Optus and Curtin University to address technology challenges facing industry and so drive economic recovery through digital transformation.

One of the first projects to be tackled by the NIIN will be a white paper on the role of collaborative technology in remote areas, with a specific focus on the government, health and education sectors. The paper aims to provide a framework to help organisations better understand the potential application of these technologies in a range of settings. Read more on our website.

La Trobe rises in Golden Age rankings

We have improved our position in the latest Times Higher Education Golden Age Rankings, rising seven places overall this year.

The Golden Age rankings are for universities established between 1945 to 1967, during the post-World War Two expansion of higher education across the world, and La Trobe is one of 308 universities from 56 countries included in the list.

We are ranked 45th in the world amongst this group of universities – an outstanding achievement. It gives me great pride to see that we are consistently recognised as a leading university in the international arena.

This is the second consecutive year that our position has improved on this measure. I believe this is a true reflection of our excellence in teaching, the impact of our research and our well-established industry partnerships.

Making the CASE

I was really pleased to see Stephen May, Alice Walter and the entire Alumni and Advancement team recognised for their brilliant work to lift La Trobe’s performance in philanthropy and fundraising over the last few years.

The Alumni and Advancement Office (AAO) won a Gold Medal for Fundraising Improvement and a Bronze for Communications Improvement in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) 2020 Circle of Excellence Awards. This is a remarkable effort – especially given the fact that there were more than 2,700 entries for these awards, which are considered the most prestigious recognition of philanthropic work in the education sector.

The Gold Medal for Fundraising Improvement was based on the team’s strategy of focusing on culture and telling stories effectively, backed up by effective systems and processes. In just three years we’ve improved our fundraising from $2.8m on 2016 to $16.03m in 2019 – a brilliant result.

The Communications Improvement Bronze Medal award recognised our fabulous Golden Lanyard staff giving campaign. Like me, the judges were particularly touched by Joel’s Story, a terrific short video that really captures the life-changing work La Trobe can do with the support of our generous donors.

Well done to everyone in the AAO!

PRIMED for success

Congratulations to the team behind the Program for Research Information Management Enablement (PRIME) researcher portal, which has been recognised in the inaugural Innovative Universities report published by The Educator’s higher education edition. The awards recognise projects that demonstrate innovation and creativity and are shaping the educational landscape across Australia.

PRIME is a world-first research information management solution that uses CRM technology in a way that is flexible and configurable for the needs of its users. By bringing grants, research collaborations, research consulting and ethics processes together in a single interface, PRIME takes the hassle out of research management and is expected to support further improvements in our research performance.

Congratulations to Professor Susan Dodds, Alistair Duncan and everyone involved.

Vale Marcus de Rijk

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the sudden passing of Marcus de Rijk, a long-time staff member of La Trobe University.

Marcus was a La Trobe alumnus and began his career with us in the early 1990s. During his 12 years in LTLT, Marcus was instrumental in establishing the Learning Management System and the transition of subjects into the online learning space. He also helped to establish the Inclusive Resources Development team to support students with a disability and was part of the team to win a 2009 La Trobe Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning for this work, and a Making a Difference award from Vision Australia. Marcus was key to the development of many multimedia projects and online learning resources that supported staff and students working across all schools and disciplines.

On behalf of the La Trobe University community, I offer my sincere condolences to Marcus’ wife Claire, his brother Gerard, extended family and friends. Marcus’ wife Claire is pregnant with their first child due in the coming weeks. Marcus' funeral was held last week and friends have established a Go Fund Me page to support Claire and their unborn child should you wish to contribute.

I sign off now with best wishes for you all to be safe and well. Look after yourselves, your families and your colleagues. Thank you to you all for your continuing hard work. While we are living through tumultuous times, I continue to be heartened by the hard work, creativity and good humour I continue to see across the University.

See you at the next all staff webinar.