November 2015

Exams get under way this week and our libraries and learning spaces are full of students preparing for their end of year assessments.

For staff, it's been a busy, productive and sometimes stressful year, but one that has seen great progress and success on many fronts. One thing that remains uncertain, however, is the long term policy setting for the higher education sector.

It looks likely that this will now be resolved at the next election, to which the two main parties will likely be taking very different policies. The Labor Party has already announced its platform, which would provide more security of funding than ever seen before in the sector. The quid pro quo for this would be tighter controls on growth, more accountability for employment outcomes for students, and a closer link to workforce planning. The chief architect of the Labor policy is Kim Carr. Senator Carr will be visiting the campus on Thursday 19 November to discuss the policy in more detail with interested staff and students.

On the other side, Minister Birmingham has signalled an intent to restart a discussion of higher education reform. While all but abandoning the package of his predecessor, it seems clear that the new Minister maintains an appetite for reform. In his speech to the AFR Higher Education Summit last week, he identified sustainability of funding for teaching and learning as a major priority, together with the thorny question of cross-subsidising research from teaching revenue (on which, more below). He pointed out that students on average bear 42 per cent of the cost of their tuition which gives an indication of where his thinking might be headed. He also suggested that expanding government subsidy to sub-bachelors qualifications, and possibly to non-University providers, still retains appeal for him, as it did for Minister Pyne; and he indicated that he wants to encourage more innovation in the delivery of teaching and learning by moving away from the current 'one size fits all' model of funding.

Meanwhile, Andrew Norton from the Grattan Institute has rolled a grenade into the middle of the funding debate with his recent report entitled 'The cash nexus: How teaching funds research in Australian Universities'. His main finding – that Universities use surpluses from teaching to fund research – is hardly new: it is well known that research is not sufficiently funded by government to cover its full cost, so has to be subsidised from somewhere else. It is also accepted that part of the 'base funding' we receive for teaching students is designed to cover the cost of maintaining a basic research capability. But all of this acquires a new significance when the possibility of asking students to pay higher fees is in play – for how can it be fair to ask students to pay more in order to fund the research aspirations of their University, with no guarantee that students will see any benefits from higher fees?

The fact that this is now on the Minister's radar (see above) suggests that he may now try and untangle this knotted web – either by more clearly separating funding streams for teaching and research, or by limiting a University's capacity to use fee increases (if any) to boost research funding. Neither is likely to prove popular with the sector, though each may have some public appeal. Watch this space!

Dr Demetriou I presume? 

I was proud to propose La Trobe graduate Andrew Demetriou to receive an honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) at a recent graduation in recognition of his outstanding contributions to sports management and to Australian society.

Andrew is a local boy, having attended Coburg North Primary and Newlands High School. He came to La Trobe to complete a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Education, which he earned while playing for the North Melbourne Football Club in the 1980s. He was a secondary school teacher for a short period, before working in a variety of roles which ultimately led to becoming CEO of Australia's largest sporting body, the Australian Football League, a role in which he was immensely successful.

Andrew gave a rousing speech to our graduates, in which he talked about the values instilled in him by his Cypriot parents, especially the notion of creating a lasting legacy for the community by leaving things better than you find them.

Andrew is young to be a retired CEO, and will undoubtedly continue to make a significant contribution to the Australian community by other means.

Celebrating staff success

I'm delighted to report that numerous La Trobe staff have been honoured in many different ways in the last month.

Well done to LIMS Professor of Biochemistry and Charles La Trobe Fellow, Professor Marilyn Anderson, who was last month awarded a $1 million research grant from the Ramaciotti foundation in conjunction with University of Queensland colleague Professor David Craik. This award, one of the most prestigious Australian science has to offer, will allow Marilyn and David to build a facility to produce potent next-generation medicines from plants. This is research with a profound potential impact for humanity. And this is very much a La Trobe success story - Marilyn is a long time researcher here and David completed both his Undergraduate and PhD degrees with La Trobe.

Congratulations are also due to Professor Betty Leask for her IEAA Award for a Distinguished Contribution to International Education; to Dr Felicity Blackstock, Dr Brianna Julien and Dr Louise Lexis, who received Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning from the Office for Learning and Teaching; to Professor Keith Nugent who has been invited to present 2016 Australian Academy of Science Lloyd Rees Memorial Lecture; to Professor Simon Crowe on his appointment as Honorary Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society; to Jodie McClennand and Alex Schenk for their Victoria Fellowships; to Dr Gwenda Tavan on receiving the Australian Political Studies Association's Academic 2015 Leadership in Political Science Award; to Professor Jane Long for being awarded UWA 2015 Philippa Maddern UWA Academic Staff Association Award; and to Colin Hocking from La Trobe Learning and Teaching who was awarded the ACTS National Green Gown Award for Staff Excellence.

Our graduates are keen to work at La Trobe 

Applications from our final year students to work at La Trobe next year under our new Graduate Development Program have recently closed. I am pleased to say we have received 132 applications from students on all campuses who are competing for up to ten graduate places.

Teams from across La Trobe have submitted more than 65 bids to host the graduates over a four month rotation period. Students are currently going through the selection process and business units will be told soon if they'll be working with a student graduate.

2015 Staff Awards attracts strong interest

The inaugural La Trobe Staff Awards bring together awards for teaching and learning, research and staff excellence for the first time, and are an important opportunity to recognise some of our most outstanding staff.

We have had a strong response to calls for nominations with a total of 71 received across the following categories:

  • Contributing to our brilliant basics (17 nominations)
  • Supporting an outstanding student experience (18 nominations)
  • Supporting research excellence (9 nominations)
  • Supporting student employability (14 nominations), and
  • VC's Award for Be the Difference (13 nominations).

The awards will be presented in a ceremony to be held at Union Hall on Tuesday 1 December.

I would like to thank all staff who took the time to make a nomination and I look forward to sharing stories of our outstanding staff achievements in coming months.

Have a great November.