May 2016

Hello, and welcome to the latest of my monthly instalments from the VC’s desk.


Last month, I travelled with a number of colleagues to China to strengthen ties with some of our key partner Universities, and to take part in Austrade’s Australia week in China (AWIC).

La Trobe has a long history of engagement with China – we were, for example, one of the first Australian universities to admit overseas students from the People’s Republic of China. Under our China strategy, developed by La Trobe Asia and adopted last year, our intention now is to focus on a small number of key partnerships with prestigious universities and research organisations in the Chinese system.

In the course of a hectic week, we visited Sichuan University in Chengdu, Chongqing University (our partner in our Confucius Institute), East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai (whose connection with us goes back more than 25 years) and Harbin Medical University, where I awarded testamurs to about 80 graduates in our Masters of Health Administration. We were greeted very warmly everywhere we went, and the news that we are focussing on a small number of partnerships was very well received.

Three things struck me while we were there. The first is the significant amount of money being invested in the top Chinese Universities (including all the universities we visited). The second was the keen interest expressed by them in developing research partnerships with us, and in learning more about our management strategies. The third was the rapid growth in potential for commercial and industry partnerships that are developing in China. Many Chinese companies are hungry for innovation and ideas, and willing to reach out to Universities everywhere to find them.

The highlight for me was the journey by high speed train from Chengdu to Chongqing, a distance of about 400 kilometres covered in well under two hours, with the train reaching a maximum speed of about 300kph. The Chinese have worked out that high speed rail is a great way to conquer distance in a large country. Australians can learn much in this respect from the Chinese, and only gaze in awe at their high speed rail technology and the grandeur of the station buildings they have created in its honour, easily matching the great 19th century rail termini of Europe and North America.

A focus on the inland

Another highlight of last month was the launch on our Albury-Wodonga campus of a new research centre, the Centre for the Study of the Inland. The brainchild of Professor Katie Holmes and her colleagues in the Transforming Human Societies RFA, this new Centre will fill a crucial gap in knowledge and research relating to the study of environmental change in the Murray Darling Basin and the social and cultural impacts that have flowed from that. The launch event included many inspiring presentations by La Trobe researchers in areas as diverse as archaeology, ecology, planning and public health.

The new Centre marries our educational mission in the regions with our strengths as a research university, and will enable our researchers to bring their expertise to bear on the challenges and opportunities confronting regional communities in the Murray Darling, across regional Australia and in rural and remote areas around the world.

 Students shine in regional grads

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a VC is attending graduation and prize ceremonies, especially at our regional campuses. These occasions are an opportunity to acknowledge the transformative effects of the educational opportunities we provide, and to say thank you to the communities who support us.

In Shepparton, 82 candidates were presented for graduation on 13 April, the audience hearing from guest speaker Peter Harriott, Chief Executive Officer, Greater Shepparton City Council.

The next day in Albury more than 110 people were given their testamurs, and were treated to a stirring speech from Adjunct Professor Rosa Storelli on the opportunities and responsibilities of leadership.

Bendigo graduations were conducted over three days last week, with a total of 765 students taking part in four separate ceremonies in the stunning Ulumbarra Theatre. I have received many emails from parents of graduating students thanking us for creating such a special atmosphere.

My thanks to our hard working colleagues who do so much to make these events such a success – especially in view of the fact that graduations are a magnificent feat of coordination of many different areas across the university.

The next graduation, in Mildura, takes place this Friday. A highlight will be the presentation of long term TAFE partner and education advocate Win Scott with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Education.

Tackling the issues of our time

Please consider attending the next Ideas and Society event for staff and students hosted by Emeritus Professor Rob Manne.

The discussion will explore some of the challenges in combating sexual violence on university campuses.

Guest speakers include current Australian of the Year David Morrison, who is renowned for his role in tackling the problem of sexual violence in the Army; La Trobe academic Nicola Henry; and Swinburne psychologist Troy McEwan. I will take part in the panel discussion as chair.   To find out more please visit the website.

Our new Bold Thinking Series is going from strength to strength. Designed to profile our research strengths, our first two events featured some of our most prominent thinkers and researchers, and the work they are doing to help combat the issues of our time. Topics have ranged from our work in autism research, to exploring the intersection of Islamic religion, history and modern culture.

The series will continue to shine a light on topics that affect us all, challenge our thinking and showcase the great minds of La Trobe academics to new audiences. If you have missed these events, you can view them via our website.

Our next event on May 19 will explore the findings of the recent Royal Commission into Family Violence and the connection between family violence and alcohol abuse. Tickets to this event have sold out, but you can still take part - live stream the event through our website and interact via the University’s twitter account @latrobe and #boldltu.

See you at your local All Staff Briefing

In closing, I look forward to seeing you all in person at the series of all staff briefings scheduled on every campus later this month.

Details of times, dates and locations can be found in this recent UniNews article. A strong element of the briefings will be giving you the opportunity to ask questions of senior University staff.

You can pre-submit questions or suggest topics you would like to hear about via email.

In the meantime, have a great May.