9 Jun 2023

Victoria University proposes cuts to religious studies programme

8:15 pm on 9 June 2023
Vic Uni sign

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A Victoria University lecturer is wondering if she will still have a job when she returns from an overseas sabbatical as cuts to the Religious Studies programme are proposed.

Dr Sara Rahmani is one of four staff members who teach Religious Studies, the only course available in New Zealand that looks at religion and non-religion.

Rahmani told The Panel staff had been given a long list of what programmes may face cuts, but nothing was clear at this stage.

"We're just waiting for the proposals to come later in the month."

Rahmani said Religious Studies looked at religion as a construct and examined its role in people's lives and society.

"To do this, we break down this category into concepts like belief, ritual, experience, religious discourse and so on and ask what does this belief in God do for people? How does it influence our behaviour, our culture, our policies and social life?"

Religion was a taboo subject in New Zealand and there seemed to be a general sense of anxiety and unease around the topic, she said.

Most students took religious studies as an elective subject, but chose to major in it after taking the course. The course had 117 full-time equivalent students in 2022.

She believed it was an important topic to study and "quite misunderstood".

The closure of the programme would be a "loss for the country" and was a bad time for it to go "under water" as religious diversity had recently been added to the New Zealand curriculum.

"I'm right now on my sabbatical in Denmark, supposed to be enjoying this moment, do my research, invest my time in producing some very interesting and important outputs but I'm constantly thinking about what is going to happen?

"Am I going to come back to New Zealand and have a job or not? So it's quite stressful."

At this stage, Rahmani said she was sitting back and hoping there may be some government funding poured into the sector to help it carry on.

A spokesperson for Victoria University said it acknowledged its current financial situation and ongoing investigations into cost-saving measures was an "extremely challenging time" for the university community.

"The university is committed to working through this process as quickly as possible and in an open and transparent manner, in order to minimise uncertainty for our staff and students.

"Te Herenga Waka has a strong focus on humanities and arts subjects, such as Religious Studies, but these subjects currently receive less funding from government than other subjects. With government already funding the university sector at about half the rate of inflation for over a decade, the financial pressures have therefore been felt earlier and harder at our university.

"Any decisions to continue, discontinue, or downsize a programme in the future as a result of the review will not prevent students currently enrolled in a programme from completing."

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