La Trobe University has unveiled its bold Future Ready five-year strategic plan with a distinctive new focus on research and learning, strong growth in student numbers – and a return to its ‘radical beginnings’ reinterpreted for the educational, national and global needs of the 21st century.
Vice-Chancellor John Dewar, in a six-day round of campus, community meetings and political briefings including Canberra, said La Trobe’s Future Ready 2013-2017 plan details the University’s strategy to build an even livelier and stronger La Trobe that retains its relevance and remains true to its founding commitment to social change and public engagement.
Under the plan, he said, La Trobe will:
- Identify a small number of Research Focus Areas that have the potential to make a real difference to solving global problems and improving the welfare of human societies;
- Develop a distinctive new curriculum, the La Trobe Framework;
- Redefine the student experience through a ‘Radical Learning Project’ which will reshape teaching and learning at La Trobe through improved degree flexibility and increased use of technology-enabled online learning;
- Increase student numbers by more than 30 per cent to 33,000 over the next five years, adding an extra 6,000 students on its Melbourne campus and 1,800 in regional Victoria;
- Significantly ramp up external engagement and community support in Melbourne’s rapidly growing north and with the regional areas La Trobe serves;
- Seek game changing partners for teaching and research, particularly in Research Focus Areas and elements of the new La Trobe Framework.
Technology is reshaping education
Professor Dewar said La Trobe aimed to regain its place as one of the top three universities in Victoria, one of the top 12 in Australia, and one of the top 300 internationally.
‘La Trobe has always been committed to social change and making an impact on the most pressing issues facing the global community. Under the Future Ready plan we will cement our place as a University known for our excellence and innovation in relation to the big issues of our time,’ he said.
‘Technology is reshaping the higher education landscape across the world. La Trobe’s Future Ready plan also responds to our view of what the future of university learning will be in 20 years time, ensuring we are preparing ourselves for that future now.’
Curriculum change linked to research strengths
‘The new curriculum framework – the La Trobe Framework – will be designed to attract creative and independent thinkers from diverse walks of life, cultures and backgrounds who have a passion for challenging the status quo and driving change,’ Professor Dewar said.
Key to this will be a new and innovative range of ‘Hallmark’ courses and ‘Essential’ learning elements with distinctive content. They will be added to the existing curriculum so students can better understand, and engage with, the big issues of the day.
Five ‘Research Focus Areas’
These will be linked with five cross-disciplinary ‘Research Focus Areas’ (RFAs) that will become the primary focus of La Trobe’s future investment in research. The RFAs that have been selected following extensive consultation with staff are: Securing food, water and the environment; Sport, exercise and rehabilitation; Understanding disease; Building healthy communities; and Population movement and human security.
‘In these areas we will aim to lay claim to be one of the best universities in Australia, and the world. They will attract the best students, staff, researchers and external partners, including from overseas, to come and work or study with us,’ Professor Dewar said.
‘Our high-performing research teams will also be encouraged to develop new programs from the ‘bottom up’, with the freedom to pursue new opportunities, funded through a venture capital-like process, with regular performance evaluation,’ Professor Dewar said.
‘This gives us the flexibility to respond to new trends, and over time some of these programs may evolve to anchor future La Trobe Research Focus Areas.’
Professor Dewar said the rapidly changing higher education environment, La Trobe’s approaching 50th birthday in 2017, and a new senior leadership team ‘made this the right time to take stock of the University’s achievements and to reset our aspirations for the future.’
He said La Trobe planned an overall increase of postgraduate student numbers, and to double domestic fee-paying graduate coursework students to about six per cent by 2017.
This would be achieved by strengthening graduate programs, establishing a new inner city campus, and greater use of flexible or online learning.
Onshore international student numbers are planned to increase by 27 percent, to 6,000, by 2017, and the range of source countries will be increased to encourage greater cultural diversity on campuses.
Under the plan La Trobe will draw on existing research strengths and capitalise on infrastructure such as the $288m AgrioBio Centre for Agribiosciences, the $94m La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences, the University’s Research and Development Park at Bundoora, the Northern Biosciences Precinct and La Trobe Rural Health School at Bendigo.
Social engagement and excellence
Professor Dewar said La Trobe was the third university created for Victoria, to provide an accessible alternative to the two pre-existing universities; bring university education to the northern suburbs of Melbourne; and excel in a number of selected disciplines.
The new strategic plan calls for La Trobe to be an active leader in the growth and development of Melbourne’s north and the regional communities in which it has campuses.
The Melbourne campus at Bundoora will be ‘turned outwards’ to encourage more effective engagement with the local community, and La Trobe will increase the capacity of regional campuses through enhanced local leadership, decision-making and service delivery.
The strategy calls for attracting more ‘high-potential students’ and La Trobe also plans to strengthen its focus on encouraging and enrolling students from low socio-economic status backgrounds.
New La Trobe scholarships will attract the most capable students and a ‘First in Family’ program will be available for students unfamiliar with higher education.