La Trobe University aims to ‘create new degrees in subject areas where we can clearly claim to be the best in the country – like food security, water and sustainability, human security, and regional Australia’.
In a speech that invoked vintage Dylan to highlight education change, Vice-Chancellor John Dewar said: ‘To study in these subjects you’re simply going to have to come to La Trobe.’
Professor Dewar was outlining key aspects of the University’s new strategic plan, World Ready: La Trobe in 2017, while addressing Alumni Award winners, their families, friends and other guests at a University dinner in Melbourne in September.
New research facilities
He said these clear areas of La Trobe expertise were underpinned by more than $500 million of new research facilities, including the AgriBio Centre and La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science currently being completed on the Melbourne campus.
‘They are also demonstrated in the Government’s Excellence in Research for Australia ranking in 2010, which recognised La Trobe as the leading University in Australia for research in biochemistry and cell biology.
‘We need to build on this work, and we have a plan to focus even more of our investment effort and business partnerships on these crucial areas in the future.’
Specialise – but retain the ‘big picture’
Professor Dewar said La Trobe is also planning to offer all students special units designed to broaden their perspectives in subjects like regional and global history and politics, technology, innovation, healthy populations and other areas.
‘It is my belief that whilst students must specialise to gain a true command of their chosen subject matter in these and other areas, there’s still a place for the big picture.’ Professor Dewar said.
‘Of course it’s going to involve quite a bit of change in how we do things.’
He stressed it was important that the University had a vision of its own future and a clear understanding of the distinctive nature of its teaching and research. But ultimately, a university’s reputation is built on the success of its graduates and the stories they tell the world, he said.
‘We have graduated more than 154,000 students since our beginnings in 1967, and I think it’s time La Trobe stated publicly its immense pride in their achievements.
Maintain essential character
Professor Dewar stressed that during any period of change it was critical to ‘keep the University’s essential character in tact. Our alumni here tonight are living proof that this is the best way’.
‘Think, for instance, how Elizabeth Proust, Terry Moran, Bill Kelty and Garry Weaven (some of whom are this year’s award winners) confronted the big changes in politics, economics and society of the last thirty years.
‘They responded in ways that preserved the essential aims and purpose of their organisations: meeting the changing public service needs of citizens; maintaining the living standards of union members during the restructuring of the economy; building an industry superannuation system to give union members a decent retirement and a stake in Australia’s wealth. None of it was easy, but they did it.’
And La Trobe, Professor Dewar said, ‘needs to keep attracting young people who have a passion for changing things. Just like we did in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies.
‘This means devising a recognisably La Trobe curriculum that can produce a recognisably “La Trobe” graduate.’
‘I’d like La Trobe graduates to stand out, to be different from others, in that they are “citizens of the world”. They should be able to conceptualise their own place in the global scheme of things and grasp how their knowledge and skills can best be used.’
The University, he concluded, will expand, ‘but we’re not going to jettison what we stand for’.
Quoting an anecdote relating to one of his favourite musicians, he said:
‘Bob Dylan famously upset the folk purists when he picked up an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Even Peter Seeger got upset.
‘But we know now that Dylan hadn’t ceased to be Dylan; he’d preserved his original musical spirit from the ‘Sixties era. What he did was recognise that the way his music had to be expressed was different.
‘And he keeps selling albums to this day.’