La Trobe University’s decision to transform its technology infrastructure is a major step towards creating a university that is more resilient and adaptive to the changing landscape of higher education.

La Trobe announced its single largest technology investment in networks, cyber security and other critical IT services with Cisco and Optus. The announcement was notable for the size of the investment and how Universities now see technology enabling its strategic goals.

La Trobe University Vice Chancellor John Dewar suggested the investment was necessary to achieve the university’s learning, research and sustainability goals.

“A core component of our University City of the Future is the concept of using the campus as a ‘Living Lab’; using existing and emerging technologies to ensure we can reach our Net Zero goals. Not only will we achieve those sustainability goals, but we’ll also be bringing together research and innovation in new and exciting ways to benefit industry as well as upskill the workforce in critical areas such as cybersecurity. And underpinning all of that is the need for robust digital infrastructure to ensure we can be resilient and adaptive.”   Professor John Dewar, La Trobe University Vice Chancellor

The Importance of Digital Investment

The prioritisation of digital spending over bricks and mortar was forecasted 12 months ago in an independent report commissioned by Cisco and Optus – “The Tipping Point for Education”. The report was based on a comprehensive survey of university leaders and revealed that funding for technology would increase despite the budget pressures. Tellingly 46% of universities believed their institution would consider liquidating physical assets to contribute to their digital programs.

In the past six months I have seen the conversation shifting away from `what will it cost’ to ‘what will it generate or save’. Universities are recognising that failure to increase investment in their digital platforms presents huge risks to student attraction and retention, learner engagement, administrative budgets, cyber resilience and sustainability goals. Universities such as La Trobe are also recognising that its capacity to help industry with digital disruption is dependent on their own technology leadership and the adaptability of their systems.

The investment in campus infrastructure also highlights that the future of learning in Australia is not online, but hybrid/blended. The campus experience will continue to be a drawcard but increasingly students (and industry partners) value the quality of digital services not just the design of spaces. The La Trobe investment also highlights the importance of multi-faceted partnerships with industry. As well as being a technology partner Cisco is a founding member of  the National Industry Innovation Network, establishing significant initiatives including an Innovation Centre, Networking Academy and Research Chair in AI/IoT to ensure that the collaboration spans every university function.

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Reg Johnson

General Manager, Education

Cisco Australia and New Zealand