25 Aug 2018

Auckland uni set to axe 21 jobs in education faculty

3:24 pm on 25 August 2018

The tertiary education union is outraged at a proposal by Auckland University to axe 21 jobs in its education faculty.

students writing

students writing Photo: 123RF

In one-on-one meetings this week, staff were given the news and told they had four weeks to provide feedback on the decision.

The Tertiary Education Union said the timing of the cuts was inexplicable, given the recent strike action and the worsening teacher shortage.

By 2030 student numbers are expected to increase by 50,000, to 850,000, however the number graduating as teachers was dropping.

Auckland University history professor and union branch secretary Jennifer Frost said the decision was premature.

"We've got a new government, we're putting together a new tertiary education strategy and we know the government is doing all sorts of reviews on different levels of education."

She said the level of expertise being cut was a concern.

"Pacifica education is being cut, which seems so contradictory given the size of our Pacifica population we also are seeing cuts to expertise in disability programmes and these are people who are training teachers and aids who help our neediest students."

Ms Frost said enrolment numbers "ebbed and flowed" and it was too soon to blame low student numbers.

"In my own case, I teach in history but we team-teach a programme to train teachers of history and that class has doubled this year.

"We know that the university does have money in the sense that there's all these new building and technology projects going on so it's not that the funding's not there - it's a choice of how do you deploy that funding."

But the university's vice-chancellor said enrolment numbers and funding were the issues that had led to the proposed job cuts.

Stuart McCutcheon said enrolments had been falling for years and holding onto staff in one faculty meant there was less money to employ staff in faculties that were growing.

"Between 2015 and this year the number of students in that faculty fell by just under 470 and that's part of a nation-wide trend where the number of people going into teacher education programmes has been falling.

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Professor Stuart McCutcheon Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

"We buffered the faculty for several years, we put additional budget into the faculty - more than what would have been justified by the student numbers."

He denied job cuts would lead to a less diverse range of staff expertise.

"We had a group of very experienced, senior academic staff and they worked through the proposals and they are satisfied that the positions that are proposed to be disestablished will not have a detrimental effect on our ability to teach our programmes.

"It's pretty obvious that if it was going to have a negative effect on our teaching quality then we would not have made these changes."

Mr McCutcheon said the university was not making a massive surplus and could not afford to hold onto excess staff any longer than it already had.

"The core operating surplus of the university when you take out one-off and extraordinary items is about $40 million - that's a little over 3 percent of our total turnover and is exactly what the tertiary education commission requires all of the institutions to have to make sure they are financially sustainable.

"So we are producing an actual operating surplus that is at the lower end of what is the desirable range."

He said all universities involved with teacher training were in the same boat.

The Tertiary Education Union said it was hopeful the job cut proposal would not go through, or would at least be postponed until further discussions had taken place.

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