21 Nov 2023

Massey University staff present 'logical' alternative plan to job cuts

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 21 November 2023
A sign protesting against Massey University's proposal to slash courses and jobs.

A sign protesting against Massey University's proposal to slash courses and jobs (file image. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Academic staff at Massey University have made a bid to save their jobs and ensure the future of sciences at the institution.

Staff and the Tertiary Education Union on Tuesday sent Massey an alternative plan to the cuts the university is proposing as it stares down an expected deficit for the year of more than $50 million.

The proposed science cuts announced early last month could see 100 jobs go, and some courses, such as engineering, axed, the Tertiary Education Union says.

It would also mean some subjects are no longer taught at Massey's Albany campus, in the new, multi-million-dollar Innovation Complex.

Massey says the proposed cuts are necessary, but it will consider feedback it receives.

Albany-based professor Dianne Brunton, whose job is on the line, said the alternative proposal was put together using the university's financial figures.

"It meets the financial targets. We've done that by first of all focusing on what costs can be reduced, in the same way the College of Sciences has done it, but with this focus on keeping as many staff as possible."

The alternative proposal said the college could cut costs by reducing the space it used, more sharing across departments and campuses, and spending less on items used in lectures and labs.

Such "teaching consumables" were incorrectly priced in Massey's proposal, allocating costs based on staff numbers, and not taking into account variances in subjects.

The alternative proposal said it was "driven by strategic vision and fiscal responsibility, not solely by fiscal policy".

Reducing the space the college uses could be a sizeable saving, as the university charges for non-teaching space - what it calls useable floor area. This includes high rates even for the likes of storage sheds.

"These space charges are very high. They are above commercial rates, so we've also requested a look at what underpins those high costs," Brunton said.

"If we reduce those non-staffing costs it would be a bit tight for the next couple of years, but we know there would be growth in student numbers.

"With immigration increasing we know student numbers will go up and it doesn't take many students [to increase] that number by very much to make a big financial difference. But, it means we have to be really efficient in how we work."

Keeping staff who had not already taken voluntary redundancy packages the university had offered retained research income and allowed for growth.

The alternative proposal said by doing this the College of Sciences would contribute about $10.3m to the university a year, about double what would be achieved if the cuts went ahead.

Brunton, an expert in conservation biology, said staff wanted to work with management to help the university overcome its problems.

"We all have the same interests. We all want Massey to do really well and we'd really like to be listened to and we'd really like to sit down at the table with them to work through those details in the implementation to make it work."

Uni will consider alternative

The Tertiary Education Union has criticised the university's plans.

In contrast, Union organiser Ben Schmidt said the alternative proposal would avoid devastating cuts.

"Members know it's achievable because they are the people who are teaching, working in labs.

"They know where, for example, space can be consolidated and where it can't, so it's about listening to the people with the boots-on-the-ground, day-to-day experience, and what works and what doesn't work," he said.

"It is now our expectation that the university stops the proposal to proceed with short-sighted job cuts and instead works with staff who know their work, who know their subjects, to build a more sustainable and growth-focused way forward."

Associate professor in zoology and ecology Weihong Ji, who is based in Albany and whose job is also on the line, is backing the alternative proposal.

"I'm hoping that it will make a difference. It's more logical. The data used is more accurate than the first proposal [from Massey].

"It saves money and at the same time saves staff, their positions. That's basically saving the university's future."

The past few weeks were tough, marking and carrying on as normal, and Ji was unsure what to tell prospective students who wanted to do post-graduate study under her when the future was unknown.

"I just want to say, the senior leadership should consider this alternative proposal and save the Auckland campus."

In a statement, Massey College of Sciences pro vice-chancellor professor Ray Geor said the university would consider the alternative proposal.

The university had extended the timeframe for consultation on its planned moves so it could work through all feedback.

A preliminary decision would be made, before more consultation. Then a final decision would be announced.

"The need to reduce costs and generate income to ensure financial sustainability remains urgent for this year and for the near term: 2024-2027," he said.