September 2022

1 September 2022

Welcome to my September blog.

After the long dark cloud of a Victorian winter, we are starting to see brighter days again – especially so at last weekend’s Bendigo Open Day, conducted under a cloudless sky. It saw one of our highest ever turnouts of prospective students and their families and follows the pattern set by Bundoora and all our other regional campuses. My warmest congratulations and thanks to all the staff and students involved in making our Open Days such a roaring success.

It comes hot on the heels of the news that our domestic enrolments for second semester are our highest ever, except for 2020 (which was a bumper year boosted by the pandemic and by short term government subsidies); and that our international enrolments are bouncing back faster than we expected, and now sit at around 70-80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. We still have a way to go to rebuild our revenue to pre-pandemic levels, but we are off to a flying start.

We can build on the momentum from our Open Days with great confidence after being ranked 296 in the world in the latest Academic Ranking of World Universities (ShanghaiRanking). This is our highest ever position since this ranking began and is a huge testament to the hard work of our researchers, and those who support them, and to the work of Alistair Duncan and his colleagues in the Research Office.

Rankings are only one indicator of teaching and research quality but are very important to the University's global reputation and student demand. We’re also in the top 250 in the Times Higher Education ranking and the top 350 in the QS ranking, so overall we can say that La Trobe is rated in the top one per cent of universities in the world. I’m really proud to see our University recognised on the global stage in this way – and grateful to all of you for your hard work in producing these results.

As usual, I’d now like to share a few recent achievements from across the University.

Student experience on the up

The Government has just released a summary report of the latest QILT data which shows that La Trobe improved its performance on key indicators of student satisfaction and the student experience since the last report. This is a great result, especially since Melbourne experienced some of the strictest COVID lockdowns in the country during the survey period.

We improved our national rank in half of the focus areas measured in the Student Experience Survey (SES), with our Overall Satisfaction measure increasing by 3.8 percentage points. We also did particularly well in comparison to other Victorian universities – La Trobe is now ranked third in Victoria for Skills Development, Teaching Quality, and Learning Resources; a significant improvement on last year.

Well done to all our teaching and support staff who worked so hard to give our students the best possible learning experience last year.

Women in sport

It was great to see Kay Crossley and the team from the La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre team up with the Australian Institute of Sport’s Female Performance and Health Initiative to present Australia’s first Women in Sport Congress at the MCG in August. The Congress is filling a gap by bringing together the latest research on women’s sport in health, medicine, administration, leadership, coaching and research. This is important given the significant expansion in interest and participation in women’s sport in recent years. Well done Kay.

Shah Rukh Khan PhD scholarship

I’ll never forget the electric atmosphere when we presented Indian film producer, actor, social justice activist and philanthropist Shah Rukh Khan with an Honorary Doctorate in 2019. SRK is truly charismatic, as you’d expect of a Bollywood superstar – but he also does important work through his Meer Foundation to support women who have survived acid attacks in India.

I’m delighted that a second Shah Rukh Khan La Trobe University PhD Scholarship will be awarded to a female researcher from India to complete a PhD with us. Gopika Kottantharayil Bhasi, who received the inaugural SRK scholarship in 2020, is doing great things at La Trobe in her PhD research on new techniques to protect the world’s honeybee population from viruses, pollutants, and declining diversity in flora. The announcement of the second scholarship coincided with the launch of the 2022 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, which is sponsored by La Trobe.

Student success

Well done to the La Trobe students who were featured in a blog post by Reg Johnson from our technology partner CISCO about the National Industry Innovation Network. Reg is General Manager of Education for Cisco Australia and New Zealand. Reg was impressed by our students’ work with industry mentors in creating an augmented reality platform for doctors in just three months. There’s a great video about their work which you can watch here.

It was also terrific to see 18 second and third year biomedical and science undergraduates from our Bendigo and Albury-Wodonga campuses spend a week together recently for the first Undergraduate Intensive as part of the Holsworth Biomedical Research Initiative. Postdoctoral researchers from LIMS volunteered to design and deliver a research-intensive experience with a focus on genuine, novel hypotheses and experiments. The students undertook a crash course in concepts, techniques and experimental design on Day 1, spent more than 20 hours in the lab on Days 2 through 4, and presented their work to the LIMS Fellows Symposium on Day 5. Well done to everyone involved – and special thanks to the volunteer postdoc leaders from LIMS.

Writers on campus

Kelly Gardiner from our Creative and Professional Writing program has kicked off a new Writers on Campus series. The first event took place during Pride Week with a conversation between Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Dennis Altman and historian Yves Rees. Look out for the next Writers on Campus session, which will be held in Bendigo in September with celebrated author Cate Kennedy.

Cultural attaché

La Trobe historian and Professor of Public Engagement Clare Wright OAM has a seat at the table with novelist Christos Tsiolkas, arts philanthropist Janet Holmes a Court and others to help guide the Federal Government’s new national cultural policy. Clare has been appointed to an expert advisory group that will sift through more than 1,200 public submissions before tabling a report later this year as part of its advice on the new policy. It’s great to see Clare included in this group, which is a testament to her standing in the Australian community and her hard work to address issues that are important to our nation.

The good old days

I made some lifelong friends when I was a student, so it was hard not to get misty-eyed when reading about the 40-year reunion of some of our Ag Science students. Although their lives and careers have gone in all sorts of directions, they’ll always be connected through the time they spent at La Trobe.

Bringing home gold

Well done to Mack Horton, Josh Katz, Caitlin Parker and Amy Lawton on their brilliant performances at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. All four students from the La Trobe University Elite Athlete Program returned home with medals!

Planning for the future

I encourage you to give feedback on the refresh of the Melbourne campus master plan. We’re keen to understand the opportunities and constraints on campus and hear your ideas for a refreshed master plan. Your input will help to inform key decisions to shape the future of the campus. This work will also benefit our regional campus network, so I encourage staff based at our regional campuses to also fill out the survey.

Art at La Trobe

Finally, I’d like to mention two terrific exhibitions that the University has helped to present.

I was delighted to participate in the opening of In our time: Four decades of art from China and beyond – the Geoff Raby Collection at the Bendigo Art Gallery in August. The La Trobe Art Institute and Bendigo Art Gallery are co-presenting this exhibition, showing 70 works from the Geoff Raby Collection of Chinese Art. The collection was donated to the University in 2019 by our Distinguished Alumnus Dr Geoff Raby AO. It is the single largest cultural gift ever made to the University and is valued at $3.1 million. The collection reflects the evolution of Chinese contemporary art from the mid-1980s onwards, a fascinating period in Chinese history during which China opened up to the West. As Geoff himself has written, the works on display ‘retain an impish sense of humour and desire by the artists to challenge and understand a society still in extraordinary flux’. Congratulations to Bala Starr from the La Trobe Art Institute who had a leading role in putting the exhibition together. It has already garnered some terrific reviews, and Geoff has written about the exhibition in his regular column for the Australian Financial Review.

The University is also sponsoring the Australian Muslim Arts Prize for a fourth consecutive year in 2022, as part our partnership with the Islamic Museum of Australia. Bala was also involved in this exhibition as a member of the judging panel. The Award is an acquisitive prize, and the winning artwork by Sam Dabboussy, a portrait of Sydney-based general practitioner and community leader Dr Jamal Rifi, will become part of the University’s art collection.

In closing

That’s it for another month at La Trobe. Thanks again to everyone who was involved in planning and delivering the very successful Open Days we’ve presented over the last few weeks. I hope that the tremendous interest in La Trobe will result in many new students joining the University in 2023!