October 2015

Welcome to the October edition, which is accompanied by a foretaste of the ferocious summer that forecasters have been predicting. For those of you who live in areas prone to bushfire, please make sure that you heed the advice of the authorities to have effective plans in place.

National developments 

A new Prime Minister has brought a new Minister of Education. Simon Birmingham has indicated that he does not intend to bring the government's controversial reform legislation back to the Senate for a third time, but that he will consult with the sector before finalising a new policy package. In a speech last week, however, the Minister indicated that his three priorities for such a package would be 'excellence, sustainability and accessibility', suggesting that some form of fee flexibility and expansion of government subsidy to non-University providers will remain core to the government's thinking.

In contrast, the Labor Party's recently-launched higher education policy promises guaranteed per student levels of subsidy, pegged essentially to current levels plus some level of indexation, and no increases in student contributions. In return, a Labor government would demand from universities higher levels of accountability for performance, especially student retention, and would continue to confine government subsidy to the University sector.  Although the ALP's policy retains a rhetorical commitment to the demand driven system, it is hard not to read the Labor policy as a return to more centrally-managed growth.

Unless Minister Birmingham is able to come up with a package that he can persuade the cross-bench in the Senate to enact sometime next year, it looks as though the electorate will be given a very clear choice of higher education policies at the next election.

In the meantime, Minister Birmingham announced last week that current funding arrangements will roll forward to 2016.

With full fee deregulation now seemingly off the table, the unity that has characterised the sector for most of the last 18 months quickly fell apart as the GO8, hoping to influence the Watt Review of research block grants, alienated the rest of the sector by suggesting that much of the money spent on PhD training outside the GO8 is being 'wasted' on 'mediocre' research. This rightly drew an angry response from many VCs, especially those in regional areas. Traditional battle lines, it seems, are quickly reasserting themselves.

La Trobe, in conjunction with the IRU of which we are a member, will continue to advocate for the policy settings we believe are right for the country and will enable La Trobe to flourish.

Developing our regions

As an example of this, I recently gave an address at an event organised by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) which focused on the contribution that higher education can make to the economic development of regional Australia.

The event provided an opportunity to build support for a La Trobe proposal for a new architecture for regional higher education policy, in particular the importance of regionally-delivered higher education to provide a pipeline of high skilled graduates for regional communities and address the drain in talent from the regions to metropolitan cities.You can read an edited version of my speech here.

Time for a higher life in the rankings

It was very pleasing to see that La Trobe was ranked in the top 400 universities in the world in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, released last week. This is the first time we have appeared in this ranking at this level since 2011.

This is one of a number of recent improvements in our global rank. In the last year, we have regained our position in the top 400 in the QS World Universities Ranking, secured a top 100 place for Arts and Humanities in the 2014 Times Higher Education Faculty Area rankings, and a leap of 25 ranks to number 75 in their Top 100 Under 50 survey.

These improvements are a result of much hard work that has gone into the presentation of our data to the rankings agency, for which Alistair Duncan in the Research Office must take much credit. However, and perhaps more importantly, it is also the result of a significant improvement in our underlying performance. Our academics are publishing more papers in higher quality journals, and more of those papers are being cited. This is what really counts, and is a credit to the whole university community.

La Trobe research makes world stage 

My warm congratulations also to the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences team who last month saw their work published in the prestigious journal Cell.

The paper was the culmination of seven years of work and described the discovery of the cause of cachexia, a muscle wasting disease which leads to the death of 30 per cent of all cancer sufferers.

Now the team is working with our partners the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute to develop a treatment for the disease, which hopefully will be at human trial stage in several years.

The story captured the imagination of many people, with media outlets including SBS TV, Channel 10,  ABC Radio National's Health report, the Australian Newspaper, Cosmos Magazine and 3AW covering the story on the day it was published.Warm congratulations to the team. If you'd like to know more, you could watch this

Big Fat Idea Video

with lead author Dr Amelia Johnson on our YouTube channel.

Revamped and renewed staff awards

Our recently announced Staff Awards program is a new way of recognising and rewarding the achievements of our academic and professional staff. It offers a range of awards linking staff achievement with our Future Ready goals. In 2015 the Staff Awards will recognise one person under the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Be the Difference, and up to eight other recipients across the following four categories:

  • Supporting an outstanding student experience
  • Supporting research excellence
  • Supporting student employability, and
  • Contributing to our Brilliant Basics.

These new awards reflect our commitment to acknowledging the outstanding contribution and performance of our staff, and to creating and supporting an environment where progressive ideas and transformations are cultivated and rewarded.

Nominations close this Friday so I encourage you to consider some of the outstanding work that is taking place across our university and the people who are making a difference. To find out more or submit a nomination go to the Staff Awards intranet page.

Creating jobs for our graduates – At La Trobe  

The Graduate Development Program is another recently-launched initiative and one that I am really looking forward to seeing come to life.

This initiative directly supports our focus on building and supporting graduate employability and represents a unique opportunity for graduates from across our many disciplines and locations.

Running in 2016, the program will provide up to ten La Trobe graduates with a genuine employment experience here at La Trobe. Graduates will be engaged by the University on one year, fixed-term contracts (HEO 5 Level) where they will undertake a series of three four-month rotation-based work placements across a broad range of employment disciplines.Employment areas across La Trobe have been invited to bid to host a graduate rotation. With the bid process now complete, the next phase will be to review graduate applications and I look forward to updating you on the outcome over the coming weeks.

Diversity matters   

You may have recently seen a message from Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Long expressing the University's support for religious and cultural diversity in Bendigo.

While it's important that we recognise the rights of everyone in society to express their opinions, we must also recognise that Bendigo is a large and sophisticated community that aspires to take its place on the world stage. That means we must recognise and respect the religious and cultural differences between us all.

Have a great month.