May 2019

As Autumn ends along with classes for this semester, our students are now focused on preparations for exams, which start on 7 June. Best of luck to them all.

Election 2019: what it means for La Trobe

The surprise election outcome will have big implications for the University sector, given the sharp differences between the parties’ election platforms.

Labor promised to lift caps on student numbers and proposed a major review of the tertiary sector (including VET). They also made specific commitments to projects at individual Universities. In our case, these totalled about $12m – money that we will now not receive.

By contrast, the Coalition announced almost no higher education policy during the election campaign. We were promised $5m for an extension to our Shepparton campus, which is very welcome, and which should now happen; otherwise, it’s not clear what we can expect.

We can, however, make some educated guesses. Reviews started before the election (on performance-based funding, the Qualifications Framework, Provider Categories, the allocation of designated student places and Rural and Regional education) will report in the next couple of months, and recently reappointed Minister Tehan will have to decide what to do about them. There will be enough in these reports alone for a reform-minded Minister to make an impact. It’s just not clear yet whether Dan Tehan will prove to be such a Minister.

It’s unlikely that the Coalition will be generous in its approach to resourcing the sector. Funding to Universities is capped to the end of this year at 2017 levels, with only very small increases (well below CPI) included in the budget forward estimates for 2020 and beyond. It is unlikely that this will change much. The problem for the last government was that they were unable to achieve significant reform to the sector because of an uncooperative Senate, which meant that savings had to be made in ways that didn’t require legislative approval (ie, the relatively crude mechanism of caps). The new Senate may be more amenable to coherent reform, but it may not be.

There remains a core dilemma for government – how to fund a sector for which there is a growing need, and soon a growing demand as the Costello Baby Bonus cohort starts to reach University age from 2022 onwards. There are only three options – to ask students to pay more, to ask Universities to do more with less, or for government to invest more. Successive governments and oppositions have proposed all three in the last 7 years, and all – except for the second (ie, doing more with less) - have failed for one reason or another. The risk for the sector is that the second option will continue to prevail, as it has for the last two years, for lack of any alternative.

Pomp and ceremony

This month I took part in ceremonies at the Melbourne, Bendigo and Mildura campuses. As always it was heart-warming to see our graduates cross the stage and share the occasion with their families, friends and supporters after working so hard to earn their degrees.

We also bestowed honorary degrees on some of our most celebrated alumni, including the NGV’s ground-breaking curator and director, Tony Ellwood AM, and the founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, whose occasional address was simply inspiring. I encourage you to watch his speech here.

My warmest thanks to Prue Kasby and her team for the highly professional way in which they organised these events, which are so important to our students and staff. Thank you also to academic colleagues who turned out in large numbers to join the academic procession. We achieved a La Trobe record at one Bundoora graduation, where no fewer than 67 staff took part – so many that there was not enough room for them all on stage! We also graduated an impressive number of PhDs, whose citations made clear the importance and impact of the work they do.

Global stars

La Trobe regularly punches above its weight on the international stage and I’d like to highlight two recent examples.

I was delighted to see our Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Jenny Graves AO recently add yet another accolade to her 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. She has just been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, an honour bestowed on very few people outside the US.

I was equally pleased to learn that the La Trobe Business School has received AACSB International accreditation, which is earned by only five per cent of the world's Business Schools. It’s a major milestone for the Business School and the result of a lot of hard work by many people across the school, including Jane Hamilton the Dean and Head of the La Trobe Business School.

Congratulations to Jenny, and to Jane and colleagues in the Business School, on these well-deserved achievements!

The Big Four

Well done to Adjunct Professor Stuart Kells who, along with University of Melbourne colleague Professor Ian Gow, has won this year’s Ashurst Business Literature Prize for their book The Big Four. Published by La Trobe University Press, The Big Four tells the history of the auditing and consultancy firms Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC, and explores the challenges facing these growing businesses.

Student success

La Trobe students are well known for being leaders in the community but international relations student Paige Wiles has done more than most, completing more than 750 hours of volunteering at La Trobe in 2018, the equivalent of twenty full-time working weeks. It’s earnt her the National Student Volunteer of the Year award at the Campus Link Awards run by the Tertiary Access Group.

I’m not sure how Paige manages to cram so much in: on top of her studies in 2018 she was part of the Debating and Labor clubs and a weekly volunteer at Student Union breakfasts, BBQs, the Chill Out Trolley delivering snacks in the library, and numerous other events. Well done, Paige!

And congratulations also to the editors of our fantastic student magazine Rabelais, which was highly commended at the awards for its 2018 Indigenous Edition, which you can read here.

Wood works

Construction of new student accommodation on our Melbourne campus is underway. When finished the two buildings will be the largest mass timber construction project of its kind in Victoria, creating a bustling new precinct. With more of our students able to live where they study, their travel time and inconvenience is reduced, and the vibrancy of our campus increases.

This project marks yet another step towards our ambitious University City of the Future. Coming to work each day at one of the largest and most beautiful university campuses in the country is always a pleasure, but watching its transformation is a new and exciting dimension.

Donor support for our students

I’m incredibly grateful for the ongoing generosity of La Trobe’s donors, including staff, who continue to show their commitment to supporting La Trobe students and the communities we serve.

Watch our video to find out how our donor community has helped solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, and helped to make sure everyone gets the chance to benefit from the lifetime benefits of higher education.

More clever conversations

Our next Ideas and Society event “Feminism, Yes, but what kind of feminism? And what has yet to be achieved?”  is already a sell-out event! Professor Clare Wright will host what is bound to be a rich and passionate discussion on the night of Tuesday 11 June.

Our guests are author and campaigner Clementine Ford; Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, practising lawyer and powerful advocate for the rights of Aboriginal women, Teela Reid; and international expert in the sociology of motherhood, feminist social theory, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, Petra Bueskens. Although tickets are no longer available, the discussion will be recorded and will be available on the Ideas & Society website following the event.

Our next Bold Thinking event on 13 June features the ground-breaking research of our Bendigo-based Anthrozoology Research Group Dog Lab, who are working to better understand how and why companion animals can reduce the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Australian war veterans. The event, hosted by journalist and broadcaster Ali Moore, will feature La Trobe scientists Pauleen Bennett and Tiffani Howell, who will be joined by a decorated soldier, animal trainer and animal ethicist to ask if dogs can heal hearts and minds.

Have a great June,