July 2021

Although the winter solstice has passed and the days are theoretically getting longer, I’m still not used to leaving home in the morning when it’s pitch black and returning at night under the cover of darkness. In typical fashion, winter has also seen my AFL team, St Kilda, languishing in the bottom half of the ladder after showing tantalising signs of early season promise.

More positively, Melbourne City FC’s men’s team has finally won its first A-League Grand Final – after 12 years’ association with La Trobe University. I am delighted for them and wish them well as they start the process of relocating their home base (and that of their W-League team, who have already won multiple titles) from our campus in Bundoora to Melbourne’s southeast. While we will maintain our partnership with them, it won’t be quite the same not seeing their light blue shirts around our campus, in the Agora or in the gym.

If you don’t like football, or sport generally, I hope you’ve been reading a good book, watching a new series on Netflix or enjoying whatever you like to do to unwind outside work. I’ve been watching The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime, directed by the talented Barry Jenkins. Not an easy watch, but immensely powerful.

It continues to be an interesting time for the higher education sector with Minister Tudge showing a keen interest in issues such as teacher education, research commercialisation, teaching and learning outcomes for domestic students and campus freedom of speech. I’ve just recorded an interview for the HedX podcast presented by Campus Review, where I discussed some of the issues facing the sector. You can listen to the podcast here.

I know that you will be eager to learn the details of the University’s structures that will be proposed under the transformation program. Communications will soon be sent about the consultation process and how you can provide feedback. I won’t be addressing the change process in my monthly blogs as this information will be provided through the University’s formal communication channels, but I do want to acknowledge that many of you are feeling anxious and stressed. We will do everything we can to support you during the consultation process and to make sure that everyone is treated with respect and care.

I will continue to send my monthly blogs over the coming months. I know it’s going to be a difficult time, but I think it’s important to keep communicating with you and share news about some of our achievements. With that in mind, here are some recent developments from across the University.

State investment fund

I visited Bendigo last Friday and joined with Maree Edwards, the member for Bendigo West, in the announcement of $2.5 million in State Government funding to help build a new Health and Biomedical Sciences Teaching and Research Hub at our Bendigo campus. It will include clinical teaching spaces that simulate a range of healthcare settings, including a mock hospital and pharmacy.

The project is funded under the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF) that is supporting universities to deal with the impact of COVID-19 by providing matched funding for capital works, applied research and research partnerships.

La Trobe also received support from this fund for our new Bio Innovation and Digital Innovation Hubs, and on Monday the Victorian Agriculture Minister, the Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas, visited the Melbourne campus to announce that La Trobe will receive a further $10 million from the fund for agriculture and food research and to support our work with industry partners. This includes expansion of our research glasshouses to enable industry partners to improve plant yield, quality and health as well as new Applied Industry Agri Platforms, with lab facilities and infrastructure including plant phenomics growth chambers that will be digitally accessible to regional industry researchers and students.

I’m very grateful to the Victorian Government for their support of La Trobe and other universities across the state through this fund. As well as supporting project investment during the pandemic, it is stimulating employment and contributing to the state’s economic recovery.

Medical research funding

Congratulations to our Academic and Research Collaborative in Health (ARCH) partners who are leading translation projects that have been awarded more than $5 million from the Medical Research Futures Fund (MRFF). One of the life-changing projects being supported will evaluate midwife-led group care to improve outcomes for mothers and babies, such as fewer caesarean births and more healthy babies. This collaboration is led by Della Forster from La Trobe’s Judith Lumley Centre, along with Touran Shafiei and Helen McLachlan in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, together with ARCH partners at The Women’s Hospital and Northern Health. The University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute are also involved.

The ARCH partnership brings together academics, clinicians, consumers, healthcare professionals, health and social care agencies and policy makers to translate interdisciplinary research, in this case through a team that is working together to understand and tackle the increasing caesarean section birth rate and unchanged rates of preterm birth and low birthweight. It’s a great example of translating university research into programs that have tangible and positive benefits for individuals, families and the community.

Leading women

I was really pleased to see Andrea Carson elected as a research fellow of the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia, which is funded by the Trawalla Foundation. Since joining La Trobe in late 2018, Andrea has led some fascinating projects examining digital media, democracy, politics and communication. She has also done her fair share of extracurricular work for the University as a brilliant host and moderator for some of our public events, as well as running internal workshops and discussions. I look forward to hearing about the results of Andrea’s project under the fellowship, which will examine voter attitudes to gender quotas in politics. Congratulations, Andrea!

I’m also thrilled that Mary Stuart from the University of Lincoln has agreed to join La Trobe in an unpaid role as a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow. Mary is a great person and her own journey in education is really inspiring. She’s dedicated to the idea of the ‘civic university’ and working to modernise institutions so that they better serve their communities. I’m sure Mary will make important contributions to La Trobe and Australian higher education policy.

La Trobe luminaries

I was disappointed that COVID-19 restrictions meant we had to cancel our planned dinner to celebrate the University’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award winners – a wonderful list of La Trobe people that shows the diverse ways we make a difference. The recipients included evolutionary geneticist Ary Hoffmann, philanthropist and activist Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Holmes, financial services executive Marnie Baker, Indigenous health and education leader Ian Anderson, the leader of Australia’s first all-female Indigenous fire crew, Charmaine Sellings, and our Young Achiever, Quill Award-winning journalist, Tom Cowie. We also awarded the inaugural Chancellor’s Award to recognise the outstanding collective achievements of 12 Master of Health Administration alumni and staff for their work in the initial response to the COVID outbreak in China in early 2020.

Public events

If you missed the Ideas and Society discussion last month on the successes and failures of Australia’s COVID-19 response, I encourage you to register to watch a recording of the event. The discussion was expertly moderated by Deb Gleeson, coordinator of La Trobe’s Master of Public Health program and featured Norman Swan from the ABC, Stephen Duckett from the Grattan Institute, Raina MacIntyre from UNSW and epidemiologist Michael Toole. It was the kind of discussion we don't often see in the mainstream media, with experts being very frank and having the opportunity to consider a wide range of issues in detail. It’s well worth watching.

We’re presenting another thought-provoking discussion at this year’s Fairley La Trobe lecture on 21 July, which is being delivered by CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation and former University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor, Glyn Davis. Each year the Fairley Foundation partners with La Trobe to present a free public lecture delivered by a prominent Australian. Glyn’s talk, On Life’s Lottery, will consider entrenched inter-generational poverty in Australia and what responsibility those who are given a head start in life have to look after those who are less fortunate.

Open for business

Finally, I’d like to thank those staff who have been working incredibly hard to prepare for our Virtual Open Day on 1 August. Open Day this year is an important opportunity to demonstrate why La Trobe is such a great place to study by promoting some of the terrific new programs we’ve developed like StudyFlex, our short courses and our industry experience and employability programs. Good luck to all those taking part in the virtual sessions or helping with the campus tours that follow.

That’s it for another busy month at La Trobe. Thank you for all your hard work and especially your efforts to keep things going so brilliantly for our students and partners during the COVID lockdown in June.