June 2020

It’s been another huge month at La Trobe. At the risk of repeating myself, the commitment, spirit and care I continue to see across the University in these challenging times is just wonderful. There is no doubt that we face significant challenges, and I will touch on some of those in this message, but I continue to be heartened by the commitment our staff have shown, and continue to show, to the learning and wellbeing of our students. Once again, thank you.

Australian Universities’ Job Protection Framework

By now, you will have seen that information about the AUJPF is available on the intranet and has been since Tuesday. This is to allow seven days for you to read, understand, seek advice and ask any further questions. A dedicated AUJPF email address has been created to respond to any specific questions you may have.

The information provided is comprehensive and detailed, and I ask that you take the time to understand what it means for you and your personal circumstances before you vote.

As you will likely be aware by now, I was one of the Vice-Chancellors who negotiated with the NTEU on this framework. I did this with the sole purpose to save jobs.

The framework is not perfect. While we cannot save every job, the AUJPF will help us to save the financial equivalent of about 225 jobs. While the framework may not suit all Universities, I believe it is the best fit for many, including for La Trobe. It includes important protections such as a hardship clause, and preservation of most existing conditions. It also provides an independent assessment of the University’s finances, and a role for the local branch of the NTEU in overseeing implementation of the variation at La Trobe.

The NTEU local branch held their vote last weekend with 74 per cent of members who voted supporting the framework.

The voting process is being managed by CiVS to ensure independence and confidentiality. While voting is not compulsory, I encourage all staff to participate.

Regardless of the outcome, I will continue to work with University Council, the Senior Executive Group and all our staff, to prepare the University for the post-COVID19 world. We will be a smaller University for the foreseeable future, with a new strategic direction, but with our core values, strengths and purpose clearer than ever.

Voluntary Redundancies and Pre-retirement contracts

One of the initial cost saving measures adopted by the University was an offer of voluntary redundancies (VRP) and pre-retirement contracts.

For those of you who registered interest in the VRP, you will have received your final payout sum. You have until today Friday 12 June to accept and continue with the process.

Confirmation must be received by this date. For anyone who does not respond, it will be assumed that you are not continuing.

You cannot withdraw following acceptance.

Staff members have until Friday 12 June to express interest in a pre-retirement contract.

Queen's Birthday 2020 Honours List recipients

I’d like to congratulate our many La Trobe community members whose contributions were recognised as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours earlier this week.

I’d particularly like to acknowledge Professor Chris Stoltz, Professor of Practice - Engineering, and Ms Christine Christian, Council member, for their prestigious awards.

Professor Stoltz was recognised for his significant service to engineering, and to charitable and emergency medical organisations with Membership of the Order of Australia (AM). Professor Stoltz joined La Trobe as Professor of Practice – Engineering in 2019 and plays an integral role in developing strong relationships with engineering employers and related industries, so that we can better match our supply of engineering graduates to meet industry and community needs.

Christine Christian is made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to the financial and investment sectors, to women in business, and through support for emerging entrepreneurs. Ms Christian, who has served on the La Trobe Council since 2017 and is the Chair of our Corporate Governance Audit and Risk Committee, is a leading Australian company director, investor and entrepreneur. Her contribution as President of Chief Executive Women from 2013-15 has paved the way for the next generation of female leaders.

My sincere congratulations to Professor Stoltz and Ms Christian, and to all of this year’s recipients, for their very deserving recognition. View the full list of La Trobe Queen’s Birthday recipients.

Funding falls short

It’s been four months since the Federal Government banned direct travel from China in response to COVID-19. There was an immediate impact on the number of international students able to undertake their studies at Australian universities, but I don’t think anyone expected the scale of the economic crisis that has followed.

More than 1.6 million Australians are now receiving JobSeeker unemployment payments, and the nation has entered recession. New modelling by Universities Australia shows that the higher education sector could lose $16 billion in revenue between now and 2023. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has admitted its JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme is likely to cost $60 billion less than was originally forecast. Even so public universities continue to be locked out of the program. Fortunately, State and Territory governments around the country have stepped in to help bridge the gap as best they can.

It was very pleasing to see the Victorian Government announce a $350 million program to support Victorian universities with capital works, applied research and research partnerships. This comes on top of their offer to give universities payroll tax deferrals to help with revenue shortfalls, and a $45 million support package for international students.

Catching up over coffee

It has been heartening to see the ways that we are staying connected in the virtual world. The ‘Random Coffees’ initiative is a perfect example of this.

After a very successful year in 2019 with 287 face to face coffee catch ups scheduled across all our campuses, Joanna Shaw, International Student Services Manager, has taken this initiative online.

The Random Coffees has proved to be vital for helping our staff feel connected during such uncertain times. It’s been terrific to see how the initiative has strengthened our cross-campus connections with staff from right across the state dialling in for a ‘random coffee’.

It remains a great way for staff to find out what other teams are working on, to expand networks, and to generate new ideas and opportunities for innovation. Thank you to Joanna who has championed this initiative and continues to be a wonderful advocate for our Cultural Qualities.

Unravelling the present

I was delighted to see Yves Rees from the Department of Archaeology and History win the Australian Book Review’s 2020 Calibre Essay Prize for their essay Reading the Mess Backwards. Yves’ essay was selected from a record 600 entries by a judging panel including Nobel prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee.

Yves re-examines their youth after coming out as trans at age 31. Not only does it bring into question the meaning of binary gender norms, it explores the possibilities offered by more fluid concepts of bodies, gender and identity. The essay is a brilliant example of the way that historical analyses help us to understand the present – and to create a new future. As expected, it’s also a great read.

Events in a whole new world

Our shift to the virtual world continued with a range of online events taking place over the last month.

With international travel off the table, we have travelled the globe – virtually - to present our Digital Transformation International Virtual Roadshows to prospective students in China and India over the last two weeks. The four-day roadshows attracted 4,000 registrations and included presentations covering Business, Analytics, IT, Computer Science, Engineering, Health, Biotechnology and Psychology. The roadshows were well received by prospective students and was a huge collaborative effort involving many teams across La Trobe. Thank you all.

Late last month, our Research and Innovation team also hosted an online webinar which considered how responses to COVID-19 could lead to new business opportunities. This event was a great opportunity to showcase the breadth of talent in the La Trobe community and its ability to respond to a rapidly changing world.

Last week, we saw our first virtual Ideas & Society event kick off, ‘Domestic Violence at the time of the COVID-19 Shutdown’. It examined the implications of COVID-19 for domestic violence and stimulated an important and thought-provoking conversation which was positively received by our audiences.

760 people joined the event from the comfort of their lounge rooms and almost 200 watched it on demand which was an impressive start. These numbers are far larger than the ones we would normally attract to a physical event – so perhaps there is something for us to learn for the future!

And to top all this off, our wonderful University Events team were recently recognised as the ‘National In-House Events Management Team of the Year – Corporate’ at the Meetings & Events Australia Awards 2019.

In particular, the team were commended for their commitment to mentoring our Event Management students through employment and work-experience opportunities. They were also state winners for the ‘Event Legacy Award’ for the Conferral of Honorary Degree to Shah Rukh Khan and the announcement of the Shah Rukh Khan La Trobe University PhD Scholarship in 2019. Congratulations to our University Events team on this highly deserved recognition.

Anyone who knows our irrepressible Events Manager, Victoria Dillon, will not be surprised to hear that the work of her and our events team has been rewarded. I’m thrilled that they have been recognised for their outstanding achievements.

Our next big virtual events will be our Open Days in July and August. I know that a great deal of preparation and planning is already underway, and I look forward to sharing more details in my next blog.

Despite the change in venues, our Bold Thinking and Ideas & Society programs are still going well. Don’t forget to register for one – or all – of the following:

Bold Thinking

17 June - Gender Equality and COVID19 

25 June -event in partnership with The Australian Ballet: A joint effort – understanding what’s good for your joints

Ideas & Society

8 July - in partnership with La Trobe Asia – Growing up Asian in Australia.

That’s it for now, please stay safe, well and warm - I confess I am enjoying working from home on many of these chilly mornings. See you at the next all staff webinar.