The academic year is well and truly upon us and it is great to see so many students on campus as they prepare to begin, or continue, their studies in earnest. There is a real buzz in the air – a sense of excitement and anticipation for what the year will bring.
I enjoyed taking part in the 'O' Week launch in Bendigo where I joined Bendigo Mayor Peter Cox in welcoming all students, including about 50 international students, to our Bendigo Campus. It was also a real pleasure to meet the ASPIRE students who have enrolled at Bendigo – a wonderful group of young people. It's also been great to see our later year students proudly wearing their 'Connect Mentor' and 'ASK La Trobe' t- shirts, eager to help those starting out at La Trobe for the first time.
This is a busy time of year at the best of times, as students return, teaching is prepared and grant applications are worked on. I am very aware that, in addition to this normal workload, staff have also had to deal with some teething problems in the implementation of some key systems, especially MyHR. I also know that the HR and IT teams have been working exceptionally hard to resolve these problems, and that most of them have now been sorted out. I am happy to report the system payroll is now operating as it should, the organisational charts have been completed in SAP, and the HR Assist queries have now all been allocated. I apologise for the inconvenience caused and thank you for your patience.
Most of us also have to get used to new ways of working with each other. Many of us are in new roles, or are working with people who are. It will take a while for us all to get used to the new organisational structures and ways of doing things. In that context, I want to recognise the great professionalism, dedication and positive attitude that I have seen demonstrated by many people in all kinds of ways and in many different places during this period. This University is very lucky to have so many loyal and passionate people who are so deeply committed to the La Trobe ethos and want to make sure our institution reaches its full potential.
Welcome to new staff
Our people are what makes La Trobe such a great place and there are many new arrivals this year I want to share with you.
After the hard work of last year, the University is now in a position to make major investments in new staff and put together some expert teams that will play a big role in La Trobe's renewal and help us on our way to becoming one of the big three universities in Victoria. For example:
- We are putting together a Sports Medicine team in the School of Allied Health that will cement our position as Australia's leading university for sports medicine research. We have recruited internationally-renowned physiotherapy experts Professor Kay Crossley from The University of Queensland and Professor Jill Cook from Monash University, and have further appointments underway.
- We have recruited an established Business Analytics group from Deakin University to the La Trobe Business School, which will see us leapfrog our competitors to lead research and teaching on big data and analytics. Professor Damminda Alahakoon, Associate Professor KL Ong and Dr Daswin De Silva are amongst the experts joining us in this move, which will also bring over $2 million in CRC funding to La Trobe and see at least five PhD students transfer to the University.
- Dr Susan Keller has joined us from Deakin University as Deputy Director of our highly-ranked MBA Program. Her expertise in business analytics will add to the critical mass of analytics experts that we have recruited from Deakin University.
- We have recruited some outstanding scholars to the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, including sociologists Dr Katie Wright from the University of Melbourne, Dr Martina Boese from RMIT, Dr Lucinda Aberdeen from the University of the Sunshine Coast and politics expert Dr Rebecca Strating from Federation University.
In the College of SHE, we are also in the process of recruiting a Professor of Health Economics in the School of Psychology and Public Health and a new Head of the La Trobe Rural Health School.
In the College of ASSC, the La Trobe Business School is currently recruiting Professors of Practice into teaching-focussed roles that have been designed for people with significant and recent industry experience. Offers are currently being made for Professors of Practice in Management, Accounting and Finance. Recruitment for a Head of School in Education is also currently underway.
La Trobe continues to be an exciting and attractive destination for scholars in many disciplines.
The University is (literally) re-building
Last year you may have heard me speak of the need to modernise our University's teaching, research and administrative facilities. I am proud to tell you that we are currently making major investments across the University and many new projects are well underway. Indeed some have already finished.
A snapshot of building works includes:
- The creation of student help desks for the 'ASK La Trobe' service areas in the Melbourne and Bendigo Campus libraries, along with an upgrade of student space at Mildura. These spaces have already become a thriving one-stop-shop for students across the University.
- Our aging University reception space on the Melbourne Campus in the Undercroft has been converted to a modern drop in centre and information point for prospective students and their families. It opened this week - take a look when you get a chance.
- The Mackay Lecture Theatre at Bendigo has been given a thorough and much-needed overhaul and is already in use by students and staff. The room now features the latest computer and projection technology as well as new seating and lighting.
- Works on Terrace 14 at Melbourne are underway to relocate the HR and Marketing and Recruitment functions into brand new facilities, which will in turn free up office space to allow for other refurbishments to go ahead.
- A new link road has been built to ensure better access from the Terraces and is already being used by the new "Glider" bus service, which will lap the Melbourne Campus every 20 minutes during peak times and is a brilliant, free service for our students.
- Work is well underway to turn the old Physical Sciences 3 building in the heart of the Melbourne campus into a new student teaching and learning space, to be called 'The Learning Commons'. This should be complete by mid-year.
This is just a short list of some of the projects under way, to add to last week's announcement of a major investment in our Campus by the City Football Group to create the Melbourne CFG Academy and permanent home for Melbourne City Football Club. More projects will be rolled out later this year. My thanks to Paul Farley and the I&O team for their hard work in making all of this happen.
Investing in digital learning
We are also investing in courseware and curriculum development to ensure we can cater to the learning needs of students using the latest technologies. This year we will invest $10 million to implement the Digital Learning Strategy. This will support the establishment of robust, contemporary systems for blended and online delivery. It will build staff capacity, foster innovation and develop exemplars of best teaching practice.
As well as enabling us to increase the number of blended and fully online subjects we offer, it also means we can modernise learning environments; improve student experience; enable the development of real-time learning analytics and high priority enhancements to the Academic Early Warning System; support student and staff skill acquisition, and fund innovation projects that increase student satisfaction, retention and success.
I would like to thank staff who have been working extremely hard to support enrolment and re-enrolment activities. The number of continuing students who have re-enrolled for 2015 is up by 1460 compared to this time last year, which is all the more impressive given that re-enrolment opened up a week later than usual. Calls are being made to students across all campuses who are yet to enrol in subjects for 2015 and these efforts have made a real difference in maximising continuing student enrolment load for this year.
Our Student Services and Student Recruitment teams have been working equally hard to ensure that new students take up their offer to study at La Trobe. Over 4000 calls have been made to people who were made offers to study at La Trobe through VTAC, which has resulted in significant improvements in converting offers to acceptances compared to our performance last year. Staff have also been providing support to new students through enrolment support sessions provided on campus.
I would also like to say a very big thank you to those involved in recruiting international students, especially staff in La Trobe International, many areas of the Colleges and other Divisions, and our colleagues in La Trobe College Australia whose collaborative work ensures we are making the movement of commencing international students into the University as smooth and welcoming as possible.
The recruitment work continues apace and commencing international students, depending on their destination School, will be concluding their enrolment over the next two weeks. At this stage, it isn't clear how close we will go to meeting the semester one targets we set, but the early indications are very promising. I know that the hard work will continue for the next few months as large numbers of international students also commence at mid-year and during the third intake in late October.
The University is a principal partner of the SheppARTon Festival which runs from 6 to 22 March. As well as hosting the Opening Night, we will be presenting the feature exhibition in the Fryer Street Ground Floor Foyer throughout the Festival. Our involvement with visual and performing arts is an important part of our work with regional communities.
I encourage you to visit Shepparton during the Festival to see some of the great works and events that have been programmed. For more information see the SheppARTon Festival program.
Future Ready refresh
The Senior Executive, Heads of School and Department and Divisional Executive Directors recently spent some time reviewing the University's progress against the targets in our Future Ready strategic plan.
It was agreed that we have made good progress in moving towards our strategic objectives over the last two years and that the directions set out in Future Ready remain broadly appropriate. While we are on the right path it was agreed some refinement and enhancement would be beneficial.
Four pillars were identified that will help differentiate La Trobe and sharpen our strategic approach over the next couple of years:
- We should be a thoroughly student-centred university that is known for its excellent student experience
- We should prepare students for success in life and work by providing a distinctive value proposition for students and for employers of our graduates
- We will pursue research excellence and regain our place in the Academic Ranking of World Universities 'Top 500'
- We will focus on 'brilliant basics' by doing the fundamentals exceptionally well for our students and staff, in learning and teaching, research, engagement and administrative services.
Over the coming months we will be updating the Future Ready plan and developing a renewed strategy to further guide our work over the next couple of years.
I will soon be seeking staff input into the development of the revised plan and will look forward to hearing your feedback.
While there is plenty of speculation about what might happen in relation to University sector deregulation, the reality is that no one really knows with certainty what will happen.
Two Senate Enquiries are due to hold hearings into the Higher Education reforms this week, after which the legislation will come once again to the Senate for a vote. A number of alternatives to the current proposal for full fee deregulation are being canvassed. Whether any of these alternatives will gain sufficient support from the Government, crossbenchers and the University sector remains to be seen. The consequences of our politicians failing to agree a consensus position are also unclear, except that the implications for our national research effort could be grave.
Like other VCs, I will continue to meet with Government ministers and the members of the Senate crossbenches and I am committed to getting the best policy result for La Trobe.
In closing, have a great March and I look forward to seeing many of you at upcoming University functions.