October 2020

After several long months in lockdown, I am sure you are looking forward to taking advantage of the loosened restrictions announced by the Premier last Sunday, modest though they were. The best news is that we now have more flexibility to ensure that our final year students can graduate; and the falling case numbers offer a glimmer of hope that the worst may now be over.

Throughout this period of lockdown, all La Trobe staff have continued to be an inspiration. Thank you again for your commitment to our students and to the University. As a small gesture of thanks, I announced at the All Staff Forum last week that 19 October will be a further Staff Wellness Day, to be swiftly followed by the Grand Final Public Holiday on 23 October.

I have summarised at the end of this message the other support that the University is providing staff at this very difficult time.

In the meantime, I am pleased to be able to share some of our recent highlights and achievements.


One year in - our Net Zero journey continues

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a year since we announced our Net Zero commitment to be carbon neutral by 2029.

Since then, we have installed 7,500 rooftop solar panels at the Melbourne Campus (adding to those already in place at our regional campuses); upgraded 24,000 lights to energy efficient LEDs; implemented an on-site organic waste composting unit; created the La Trobe Energy Analytics Platform; and established the $500,000 Net Zero Fund to support research and scholarships.

These initiatives will reduce our carbon emissions by 15 per cent this year and will reduce our energy bills for the next 25 years – putting us well on our way to net zero.

I’m delighted that the Net Zero program has been shortlisted for the ‘2030 Climate Action’ category in this year’s Green Gown Awards Australasia. Congratulations to all those involved in this important work.


Bushfire Recovery Program grants

Congratulations to these researchers, and their teams, from the School of Life Sciences who have successfully secured grant funding from the Australian Government’s Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program.

Dr Ryan PhillipsPreventing extinction in bushfire-affected orchids. To prevent extinction of threatened orchid species in these regions, this project will survey the affected populations, determine limits to reproduction in a post-fire landscape, and develop extensive ex-situ collections for future reintroductions and research. This project is in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, the Botanic Gardens of South Australia and a range of other partner organisations.

Associate Professor Pete GreenImpact of megafires on priority land snail species in south-eastern Australia. In this research project, the team will undertake targeted field surveys to determine the impact of the recent bushfires on 18 species of land snails listed as ‘Priority Matters’. This work will assess the impact of the fires on land snails and will identify priority actions needed to support their recovery and conservation.

Associate Professor Heloise GibbRapid assessment and restoration of litter and log invertebrates. Heloise will survey priority invertebrate species to determine the impact of fires on log and litter invertebrates. Her research will test the effectiveness of relocating litter invertebrates from unburnt to nearby burnt areas to fast track recovery.

This is the second tranche of this funding opportunity and I would also like to recognise Dr Julia Mynott, who was successful in the first tranche, for her research into the conservation of Victoria’s unique alpine stonefly, following the 2020 bushfires.

La Trobe has been awarded the highest number of grants across the two tranches and will receive almost $1.5m. I am delighted that La Trobe researchers have been successful in this important grant program which supports the immediate survival and long-term recovery for fire-affected Australian animals, plants, ecological communities and other natural assets and their cultural values for Indigenous Australians.

Well done to everyone involved.


Breaking into THEs Top 250 rankings

La Trobe has achieved another impressive rise into the top 250 universities in the world in the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) World Ranking. Our new position of 234 is the highest we have ever achieved and means we are third in Victoria.

This is a fantastic achievement by all La Trobe staff and is testament to our exceptional teaching and research, and to the strength of our industry connections at a regional, national and global level.

We have been steadily rising in the THE World Rankings over the past three years, having risen 158 places since 2017. Indeed, we are one of the fastest improving Australian universities on this measure. This excellent result follows the THE Impact Rankings announced earlier in the year in which we were placed fourth in the world, third in Australia and first in Victoria for our overall contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

It is wonderful to see La Trobe being recognised in this way on the world stage and I’d like to thank you all for your contribution towards this impressive result.


Kicking goals!

This year’s English Premier League season has just kicked off and I’m hoping that my team, Southampton, fare better than they have in recent years. But even if they don’t, I’ll get my fill of soccer closer to home once the recently announced training base for the Australian women’s team, the Matildas, is up and running at the La Trobe Sports Park.

Sam Kerr’s team are beginning their campaign for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, hosted by Australia and New Zealand, and I’m thrilled that the Victorian and Federal Governments are supporting the planning for the team’s headquarters on our campus along with Football Federation Australia’s national women’s programs.

Facilities for Football Victoria, and State Centres of Excellence for Football and Rugby Union, are also planned which will provide more outstanding opportunities for our researchers and students.


Awards season

Many congratulations to the teams behind La Trobe’s Freely-Accessible Remote Laboratories (FARLabs) and the high-tech Lightboard Studios at the Bendigo campus on being shortlisted for the 2020 Australian Financial Review Higher Education Awards. Both projects are brilliant examples of using technology to make learning more accessible, and I’ll be cheering them on when the winners are announced at the award presentation on 18 November.


Strategy and planning

Our University Council has now endorsed our new Strategic Plan 2020-2030: A university for the public good in a COVID-19 affected world and the summary Plan on a Page.

It’s the culmination of many months of work across the entire University. I’d like to thank all colleagues who took the time to make thoughtful contributions to the development of the Plan. I am confident it creates a future direction which will see us emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as a stronger, more resilient and future-focused institution.

The first stage of our Business Planning consultation concluded on Monday. The main themes of the feedback were that Plans should place stronger emphasis on innovation, collaboration and diversity. This feedback will be taken into account as the Plans are finalised and I will be sharing further information on the feedback provided in the coming weeks. Again, warmest thanks to those of you who contributed.


Everyone is invited to FocusOnResearch

FocusOnResearch, a series of events to be hosted throughout October, will enable you to learn more about the research happening at La Trobe, and about our collaborations and partnerships. Many of these events are open to internal and external audiences so I encourage you to invite your colleagues or collaborators.

One of the first events in this series, ‘In universities we trust’, is a forum bringing together a panel of key research leaders at La Trobe to discuss issues facing university research today and the role of expertise in public discourse. Another event – presented jointly with our partners Optus and Medibank – showcases the importance of industry partnerships and the mutual benefits these bring to universities, industry and our communities.

There are also events specifically designed for La Trobe researchers, including a Masterclass workshop for our higher degree researchers and early career researchers.

View the full FocusOnResearch program.


Staff Awards 2020

Nominations are now open for our annual Staff Awards program, which provides opportunities to recognise colleagues for their efforts and to celebrate examples of our cultural qualities in action. Nominations are open until Friday 30 October, so I encourage you to think of an individual or team you would like to see recognised.

You can learn more about the Staff Awards program on the intranet and nominate via the online form.

The awards will be presented at our end of year online celebration event on Tuesday 8 December.


Staff ThanksGiving Month

Like many things this year, our traditional Staff Giving Month looks a little different. Renamed as Staff ThanksGiving Month, this October we are taking the time to thank staff for all that they give to support our students.

In a time where it’s never been more important, we have seen some incredible acts of kindness and generosity from our staff. This year, eight students have received Golden Lanyard scholarships and more than $740,000 has been raised to support our students, which has provided much needed financial assistance to over 1,200 students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can hear first-hand the positive impact your generosity has had on our Golden Lanyard Scholarship recipients.

Thank you again to all staff who contributed in some way to this important cause – your commitment to supporting our students during this time has been extraordinary.


Upcoming events in October

I hope you can join me next Wednesday for our Celebrating Inclusivity at La Trobe event, as we reflect on our commitment to gender equality and inclusivity.

We have other great events on offer throughout this month, including our Bold Thinking event – ‘Risky business: the politics of preparing for a pandemic’, moderated by Professor Lawrie Zion, and the next Ideas & Society event ‘COVID-19 and the mental health of Australians’, moderated by Professor Jennifer McIntosh AM.

We’re also proud to be launching the latest book from our La Trobe University Press imprint, in collaboration with Black Inc. Reconnected: A Community Builder’s Handbook explores how to create strong connections for resilient communities, and the strength that is found through community. Coinciding with the book’s release, we have an in-conversation event next Friday with Reconnected authors Andrew Leigh and Nick Terrell, hosted by Adjunct Lecturer Ros Ben-Moshe – find out more and register.


Support for staff

Every one of you is integral to our success. Whether you’re a researcher, teacher or lab assistant, or you work in ICT, maintain our beautiful campus grounds or help students through ASK La Trobe, you contribute to our mission and the success of our students.

Even at the best of times our work has its challenges. But in a year like this each of us is also dealing with all sorts of additional stresses and pressures. I’m well aware that 2020 has been one of the most difficult years many of us have ever faced – either at work or in our personal and family life.

I also know that there are also multiple layers of change which are causing uncertainty and anxiety: there is the impact of COVID-19 itself, and then the University’s response through our new Strategic Plan and transformation program.

We’ve done what we can to try and support you during the year, such as through the Wellness Days and extra support for staff with carer responsibilities. We also know that our staff are a diverse group, and we won’t always come up with ideas or initiatives that will suit everyone. But I’m absolutely committed to continuing to back you as much as we can.

I’m pleased that we’ve been able to provide the support programs currently on offer, but as a University I think it’s important that we engage our academic staff expertise in developing the programs further.  I’m pleased that Professor Stephen Kent, the Head of our School of Psychology and Public Health, and Emma Hardy from HR, have agreed to co-lead a new Health and Wellbeing Reference Group. Their work will inform the development of our health and wellbeing supports to ensure they address a broad spectrum of individual and personalised needs.

Additionally, we’re incorporating the principle of ‘assessing achievement relative to opportunity’ in all of our employment-related policies and processes. This will be especially evident in Career Success this year – we won’t be assessing staff against singular benchmarks, but will take into account your personal circumstances in this difficult year when assessing your contributions.

Guidelines have been developed to help include this principle for assessing staff for purposes including academic promotion, performance development (Career Success), recruitment, career development opportunities, and internal grants and awards. I hope this puts you at ease about the way we’ll approach these processes in light of COVID-19.

We also know that strong and effective leadership is a vital enabler of staff health and wellbeing, and I have asked La Trobe’s Senior Leadership Group to make this a key focus of their own work over the coming months.

In the meantime, please continue to access the wellbeing and support programs that are available. More information is available on the intranet.

That’s it from me for now. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and do try to take leave where you can. Particularly around our wellness day which, on Monday 19 October, is the same week as the Grand Final holiday Friday 23 October. Stay safe.

John