March 2023

9 March 2023

Welcome to my March blog.

As the Chancellor announced last Monday, I’ll be concluding my term as La Trobe’s VC early next year. Warmest thanks to those of you who have sent or posted messages following the announcement – it means a great deal to me. It’s been an incredible privilege to lead La Trobe over the last 11 years, but there’s a lot more I want to achieve over the next 10 months.

The University is bigger than any one individual, and all the members of our Senior Executive Group are doing a terrific job leading the implementation of our strategic plan and key projects such as the University City of the Future. I know that the prospect of a change in leadership can be unsettling, but we’re in an excellent position to build on the momentum we’ve developed over the last couple of years.

University Council is strongly committed to our strategic vision. Chancellor John Brumby delivered a compelling speech to business leaders at the industry network NORTH Link last Thursday. He talked about the ways that La Trobe is supporting industry and the community through our research and tech expertise, and our contributions to skills and economic development through projects like the University City of the Future.

There are many other projects on our agenda for 2023 and beyond. We’ll be continuing work on our partnership with CSIRO and government to establish an Australian Food Innovation Centre, strengthening our presence and course offerings in the regions, and contributing to a very important year of national higher education policy development that includes creation of the Australian Universities Accord.

We also need to be ready to grasp new opportunities when they arise. I’ve just returned from a visit to India with a delegation led by Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare, during which some Australian universities announced the establishment of campuses in India. I renewed some of La Trobe’s MoU’s with our Indian partners. We’ll continue to explore opportunities to expand our programs with Indian students and partners throughout the year.

There’s also a lot happening at our campuses here in Australia. It’s the second week of semester and it’s been wonderful to feel the energy of so many students back on campus for O Week and the start of semester. It’s my favourite time of the year – despite the coffee queues, it’s hard not to feel warm inside looking out at so many excited young people embarking on their studies with us. Good luck to everyone teaching this semester.

As usual, I’d now like to share a few of the recent achievements from across the University.

A distinguished event

Last week, we held our annual Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner. Over the years, this has become one of the most important events in the University calendar, when our alumni can come together and take pride in the achievements of their alma mater.

We were able to celebrate the achievements of eight La Trobe alumni (including our 100th DAA recipient) for their achievements in politics, philanthropy, business, and health and wellness. All have made significant contributions to their own professions and to the wider community. I urge you to watch the videos about each of them at the link above. Thanks also to Clare Wright who once again did a fabulous job as our MC for the award ceremony.

Supporting our women

Congratulations to our 2023 Tracey Banivanua Mar Fellows Amy Pennay and Sarah Annesley, who will use the Fellowships for their respective research on the influence of social and cultural factors on drinking practices and the role of mitochondrial function in health and disease. We’ve awarded 12 of these Fellowships since establishing the program in 2018 in honour of our esteemed historian Tracey Banivanua Mar, who sadly died in 2017. It’s terrific that we can commemorate Tracey’s memory by supporting colleagues who have major caring responsibilities to maintain career momentum.

La Trobe has also been involved with the WATTLE program since 2018 as a founding university member. WATTLE brings together female leaders to design programs that support the leadership development needs and aspirations of women in higher education. We’ve helped to demonstrate the benefits of the program, which is now expanding across the sector. Sixteen La Trobe women have participated in the program. Two of these women have gone on to roles outside the University, while another 12 have been promoted to higher level positions at the University – an extraordinary success rate.

Teaching par excellence

Warm congratulations to the La Trobe teaching scholars that received Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning at the 2022 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT). It’s the second consecutive year that La Trobe has been awarded more citations than any other Victorian university – a testament to our world-class teaching staff as well as the excellent support being provided for learning and teaching by Nicki Lee and her team in the DVCE portfolio.

The DVCE team manage an extraordinary volume of work across the education services and quality and standards divisions, as well as managing the libraries across our campuses. To give a sense of the quantity and breadth of activity across the portfolio, consider some data from 2022: the course quality team reviewed 440 subjects; the professional development team delivered 80 webinars; the online education team developed 103 online subjects; and our libraries delivered 330 workshops, provided 723 Career Hub consultations, 589 reference consultations, and 682 Peer Learning Advisor consultations, and converted 350 reading lists to digital, saving our students $509,772. There were many other activities across the portfolio – but you get the idea!

Statements from the Soul

I’m pleased that the La Trobe University Press published Statements from the Soul: The Moral Case for the Uluru Statement from the Heart last month. This collection of essays from religious leaders arguing for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution includes contributions from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities. It demonstrates how a diverse group can transcend divisions through thoughtful and considered discussion. Over the coming months, the University can play an important role by lending our expertise and promoting discussion in the lead up to the referendum on establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

Let's get physical

I’ve been delighted to be able to sign up again with La Trobe Sport so that I can access the Bundoora campus gym. The team have been working hard to improve the facilities at our Bendigo and Bundoora facilities, and both are now comparable with the best you can find anywhere. There are also facilities for yoga, pilates, swimming, and squash. Staff in Melbourne and Bendigo can make the most of our affordable salary deduction memberships to keep fit and healthy. See you there!

Ideas that matter

Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Robert Manne is presenting the Ideas and Society series for a fourteenth year in 2023. The first event for the year is on Thursday 23 March and will consider Australia’s defence policy in the context of the complex geopolitical issues facing our region. It features three of the nation’s leading international relations and defence analysts: Hugh White, La Trobe’s Bec Strating, and Sam Roggeveen.  You can register here.

Writers in Bendigo

The program for this year’s Bendigo Writers Festival was released yesterday. Our Professor of Public Engagement, Clare Wright, has curated some brilliant sessions that are running throughout the festival from 4 to 7 May that feature writers connected to La Trobe. Clare’s La Trobe presents sessions include current staff, alumni, and La Trobe University Press writers discussing all manner of cultural, political, and literary questions with some of Australia’s most prominent writers and thinkers. Clare is also hosting the Festival Gala at Ulumbarra Theatre on Friday 5 May, which is also presented by La Trobe. Festival tickets are on sale now.

In closing

As you can see, we’ve already achieved a lot in the early months of 2023. I look forward to seeing you at our first all-staff webinar for the year on Thursday 16 March to talk more about our recent work and the year ahead.