It’s exam time again, which is a reminder that we have almost made it to the end of another year. And what an extraordinary year it’s been. 2021, the year that was meant to be a big improvement on 2020, turned out to be just as challenging, perhaps more so. Everyone can take great pride in the way we have kept our teaching, research and student support activities going during a period of such upheaval and uncertainty inside and outside the University. My thanks to everyone for an extraordinary effort once again this year.
Melburnians, at least, are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, with restrictions starting to lift and life beginning to return to some sort of normal. Our colleagues at regional campuses, however, have all experienced outbreaks and associated restrictions of varying severity. I know that our regional campus heads have been in close contact with local organisations including schools, health services and city governments to offer support.
Looking ahead, there are genuine reasons to be optimistic about 2022. We’re well advanced in our plans to safely reopen our campuses from early December, when everyone coming to campus will be expected to be fully vaccinated. International students will also start to return later this year. At first, these will be existing students who need to return to campus to complete their degrees; but as international borders reopen, the numbers will build steadily throughout 2022 so that new students can start to arrive in significant numbers. All of this will help to bring our campuses back to life.
In the meantime, I’d like to share some of the recent achievements and activities from across the University.
Leading the way
Hearty congratulations to Geraldine Kennett and her team in the La Trobe Business School on receiving the 2021 Australian Business Award for Community Contribution for the free online Leaders in Lockdown program. The program had almost 12,000 enrolments last year and provided a huge amount of support for the business community to respond to COVID-19 by providing access to modules in the La Trobe MBA. It was a brilliant example of adapting an existing program to address urgent need in the community – well done, Geraldine!
Women at the front
One of the things I’ve really missed during the COVID-19 pandemic is regularly spending a day at each of our regional campuses meeting with students and staff, local partners, and stakeholders. These visits are coordinated by our regional heads of campus, all of whom are women who are brilliant role models for other women and gender diverse people who aspire to become leaders. A terrific profile piece was published recently – to coincide with the International Day of Rural Women – of Deb Neal, Elizabeth Capp, Guin Threlkeld, and Julie Rudner.
It was great to see the results of a project led by Brian Abbey and colleagues, including Eugeniu Balaur, published in the prestigious journal Nature. Brian’s team has worked for five years with researchers from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Olivia Newton‐John Cancer Research Institute, the University of Melbourne and ANU to develop a microscope slide that will support more consistent breast cancer diagnoses and has significant potential for a range of commercial imaging applications. The University has invested in the development of this technology through our Strategic Investment Fund, which aims to support University inventions to realise their commercial potential.
Investing in the future
Congratulations to all of the researchers who won funding under the first round of our new internal investment scheme that supports research projects aligned to the University’s five research themes. The scheme aims to help in the development of research proposals that win significant external research income and secure partnership support. I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of the nine projects supported under the Large Collaboration and Rapid Synergy Initiatives schemes; and of the 39 projects funded under the ABC scheme for early- and mid-career researchers, which involves our experienced researchers helping to build capability through mentoring and collaboration.
Contributing to better health
We’ve all admired the incredible work of health and medical professionals around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our University plays an important role in training the future health workforce. We have a very high proportion of students enrolled in health-related degrees, and our Rural Health School is the largest in Australia. Employment market forecasts suggest a significant increase in job opportunities in the health sector over the next five years.
Perhaps because of this, early applications data shows increased popularity for our nursing degrees in 2022. We’ve also had significant interest in our re-entry to nursing short course that provides a pathway for nurses to re-register and get back into the workforce in just 10 weeks. It will help to provide a much-needed boost to the nursing workforce, especially in regional areas.
Our paramedic students in Bendigo are also helping in the response to COVID-19 by answering a call from Ambulance Victoria to undertake COVID-19 training so they can help with the increasing pandemic care load. Our students will help with patient management in hospitals and assist in the field with paramedics.
There’s a growing body of evidence about the effects of social media companies on the dissemination of information, so I was pleased to see that Andrea Carson is leading a team of researchers from RMIT, the University of Waikato and the University of Melbourne that has won a highly competitive Facebook Global Grant to undertake research on misinformation and polarisation. I’m sure the project, How Fact Checkers Compare: News Trust and COVID-19 Information Quality, will provide some important recommendations that can improve the accuracy of the information we access online.
It was great to attend the season 3 launch of the fantastic Archive Fever podcast presented by La Trobe historians Clare Wright and Yves Rees last week. Gideon Haigh was a compelling guest speaker who shared his passion for diving down archival rabbit holes and for taking on Government over its management of the nation’s Archives. If you missed it, it will be available from wherever you get your podcasts; and I’m sure that season 3 will be compelling listening.
I hope to see a big crowd for the event on 17 November that will launch consultation on the University’s new four-year Gender Equality Action Plan. This is the fifth year we’ve held an annual event to celebrate our achievements in gender equality at La Trobe and to reflect on the work that remains to be done to create a truly inclusive community at the University. The gendered impact of COVID-19 makes this year’s discussion more important than ever. I encourage you to register for the event. You can also take part in focus groups being run by Tasha Weir to inform development of the Gender Equality Action Plan.
I’m excited to see plans taking shape for graduations in Melbourne and Bendigo later in the year. After spending the final years of their degrees studying online, it will be terrific to be able to get together in person with our newest graduands and celebrate their achievements with families and friends. Bendigo graduations will run from 1 to 3 December in the gallery of the new Bendigo campus Library, while the Chancellor will preside over the Certificate IV in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management graduation on 3 December for the classes of 2020 and 2021.
The easing of restrictions in Melbourne means we can once again host thousands of graduates at a series of 50 smaller graduation ceremonies at the Melbourne campus, which will run from 13 to 21 December. I encourage academic staff to participate in these modified ceremonies and be part of what is always a proud day for our community. If you’re interested in taking part, please contact the University Events team by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s it for another busy month at La Trobe. Don’t forget to nominate your colleagues for our 2021 staff awards. Nominations close 5 November and we’ll be holding our award ceremony and end-of-year celebrations on 8 December. I look forward to celebrating with all of you.