May 2020

It’s May, it’s getting colder, but there’s no footy – so while some aspects of life feel familiar, others don’t.

I hope you are all doing ok and that the first wave of stress and effort in moving to online delivery is starting to settle down, and that this ‘new normal’ is starting to feel more familiar. I’m sure that you all face challenges of different kinds – but what keeps my spirits up is the strong sense of community and common endeavour that we have created. Again, thank you.

A big disappointment for me, and I’m sure for you, is that we are unable to access the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program. As you know, we qualified under the original rules, but the Treasurer’s announcement on the night before Anzac Day meant that we no longer do. We are now taking stock of that announcement and working out how we navigate this difficult time by drawing on our own resources as best we can.

Victorian Government support

By contrast, it was really pleasing to see the Victorian Government recognise the important contribution of international students – to our community, and to our economy – with their $45 million support package. The State Government has also established a taskforce of senior staff from various Departments who will work with Victorian Vice-Chancellors over the coming months to maximise the role of universities in supporting Victoria’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

As well as working to support international students and to advance Victoria’s excellent reputation for international education, the taskforce will identify opportunities for knowledge and skills development in specific industries, and co-investment opportunities including capital projects and other economic stimulus activity.

Helping businesses adapt to the new environment

We recently announced our collaboration with Investible, a leading early-stage investment firm to create the COVID-19 Industry Response Program to support small businesses to adapt to new ways of working.

Delivered completely online, the program will start on 8 June and run for 12 weeks - at no cost to participants. The COVID-19 Industry Response Program will support established retailers, manufacturers and small businesses across all major industries and sectors including regional areas.

In a matter of weeks, the global economy has been altered completely and we are proud to support programs like this as they help small businesses respond in a way that sustains and improves their business.

You can see the full details of the partnership and the program in our media release.

Short courses

The University is participating in the Federal Government’s COVID-19 short course scheme designed to help those affected by COVID-19 to retrain and develop new skills. We will offer Graduate Certificates in Disability Practice, Digital Health and Mental Health, and we are finalising courses in Food and Nutrition, IT, Health Sciences and Science. I look forward to sharing further details once these are approved by Academic Board and are in market.

Bendigo Regional Advisory Board

Acting PVC Regional Guin Threlkeld and I met with the reinvigorated Bendigo RAB on 24 April. The RAB provides advice on the strategic direction and local priorities of the campus and plays an important role in advocating for the University in Bendigo. It’s a terrific group of local stakeholders who are really committed to the region. It is chaired by Damian Wells, managing director of local water provider Coliban Water.

I think that Bendigo can be a truly great ‘University City’, where both our campus and the city attract people to live and work in the region.

We’re already building a critical mass of expertise and infrastructure in fields like rural health and engineering and have a great base to continue our work in central Victoria. Our role in Bendigo will be crucial as we help the community and local economy to recover after the COVID-19 crisis through re-skilling of the workforce.

Top of the world in gender equality

In the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, La Trobe has placed fourth in the world, third in Australia and first in Victoria for overall contribution to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We also ranked first in the world for gender equality and second for contribution to health and well-being.

Our fourth world placing overall was the result of consistently strong performances across the 11 SDG categories for which the University was assessed, including decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities and affordable and clean energy.

I’m especially pleased that we ranked number one for gender equality – a wonderful recognition of the work we are doing in this area.

For me, the best thing about this ranking (apart from the fact that we do well!) is that it takes a multifaceted view of the impact we have as a University – as teachers, researchers and professional staff. Unlike so many rankings, it doesn’t focus solely on research, but looks at all aspects of what we do through the lens of the difference we make to the world around us and the communities we serve. It captures something very special, and very important, about La Trobe.

I hope you feel proud, as I do, to work for a University that is so highly regarded for its contribution to sustainable development. You can read more about the rankings and the key programs that underpin our success in the media release.

Free leadership skills through the La Trobe Business School

The COVID-19 global pandemic has provided a range of challenges to our community; but it also creates an opportunity to take on some things you may have put on the backburner, such as personal development or further study.

Thanks to La Trobe’s Business School, you have an opportunity to access the Leadership Professional Development Program run by leading business academics and alumni from the University’s MBA program. This free, 12-week online course will help you understand your leadership style and strengths, as well as address any gaps.

This idea started as an initiative for our major sporting partners and was developed jointly by La Trobe Sport and the Business School; but the response has been so strong that we have decided to broaden participation. There are now almost 3,000 people signed up for it – so warm congratulations to Geraldine Kennett and Bronwyn Neeson for coming up with the idea. For me, it exemplifies what a University does when it cares about the impact it can have.

You can read more on our website and registrations are still open for any of you who might be interested.

Congratulations to our newest graduates

Usually at this time of year we would be celebrating with thousands of graduating students across our campuses. Although it is disappointing not to be able to gather together in person to celebrate, this by no means diminishes all that they have achieved in their time at La Trobe. I would like to extend my personal congratulations to all of our newest graduates and express my appreciation to their family and friends who have supported them throughout their studies.

All students who were to graduate in April and May will be graduated in absentia and issued with their digital certificates. When safe to resume large gatherings, we plan to invite these newest members of our Alumni community back for a presentation ceremony so that they have the opportunity to don their cap and gown, collect their certificate and take that all-important photo!

For our regional campuses, their annual prize presentations also occur as part of their graduation ceremonies, so I would also like to congratulate the hundreds of student prize recipients who have been awarded prizes in absentia. Their prize certificates will be printed and sent to them once staff in our student administration team have returned to campus.

Graduation ceremonies are a highlight of our University calendar and I look forward to resuming these when it is deemed safe for us to do so.

Online events

As you know, we made the decision some weeks ago to cancel all events on our campuses until at least 30 June. Since then, our University Events team has been working hard to create virtual events. One of these is our celebration on 12 May of the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, and the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale.

I am honoured to be a part of an event that celebrates our students, alumni and staff, and recognises the incredible work done by nurses and midwives locally, nationally and internationally – particularly during crisis times such as these. You can register here.

We also have our first Ideas and Society event for the year, focusing on domestic violence and the COVID-19 shutdown. As a consequence of the comprehensive social shutdown necessitated by the pandemic, family members have been required to stay together for protracted periods, leading to the frightening possibility of an increase in the number of instances of domestic violence.

The event will take the form of a conversation between Jess Hill, the Stella prize-winning author of See What You Made Me Do and Rick Morton, the best-selling author of One Hundred Years of Dirt. You can find out more about our upcoming Ideas & Society events here.

COVIDSafe app

Last week the Australian Government launched the COVIDSafe app to assist health authorities for the specific purpose of contact tracing. Contact tracing is a key aspect of Australia's pandemic management plan, and the COVIDSafe app has been designed to help public health officials speed up the process of notifying potentially affected individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19.

The decision to download and use the COVIDSafe app is completely voluntary.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has expressed his appreciation to the more than five million Australians who have already downloaded the app.

The more people using the COVIDSafe app, the more effective it will be in aiding public health officials by improving the timeliness and accuracy of contact tracing to help find and contain outbreaks quickly and help to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. Recent media briefings by both state and federal health authorities have emphasised that improved contact tracing will greatly assist decisions around easing current restrictions while still protecting the health and safety of all Australians.

I personally have downloaded the COVIDSafe app – because I believe that the Government has taken privacy concerns seriously (and more seriously than the social media platforms we happily sign up to) and because I believe it will help us all to overcome this virus sooner.

To learn more about the COVIDSafe app and how it will support health authorities in their contact tracing efforts, visit the Department of Health website. If you would like to download the COVIDSafe app, you can do so here.

Webinars and All Staff Briefings

I know that many of you were able to join the Senior Executive Group for the first webinar held on Wednesday 22 April. Thank you to those who attended and a reminder that the presentation slides from the event are available on the intranet and invitations to the next webinar on Tuesday 19 May have now been distributed.

Owing to the COVID-19 restrictions, the format of our planned June All-Staff Briefings will change. While it is disappointing to not be able to visit each campus, it is important to continue to adhere to the movement and travel restrictions recommended by the Victorian Government. Our webinars do cover off a lot of the material we would have at our regular briefings but to ensure each campus is covered, we are asking staff members on regional campuses to submit any questions they may have by COB Friday 15 May. You can submit your question to your Head of Campus or directly to to ensure it is responded to. 

That’s it for now. As always, thank you for continuing to work so hard in these challenging times. Please stay safe and I'll see you on 19 May.