21 Jun 2023

'Tragic' blow for staff as Victoria University proposes cuts to jobs and entire subjects

4:21 pm on 21 June 2023
Staff and students protest proposed cuts at Victoria University

Staff and students rally at Victoria University on Tuesday Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Entire subjects and 229 full-time equivalent roles will be axed at Victoria University if proposed cuts that staff describe as shocking go ahead.

The Tertiary Education Union held a rally at the university today, after vice-chancellor Nic Smith briefed staff on the university's latest proposals on cost-saving to address a forecast $33 million deficit.

The union's branch president, Dougal McNeill, said the potential cuts would eliminate 229 full-time equivalent roles and entire subjects including secondary teaching, German, Italian, Latin, tourism management, design technology, and geophysics.

McNeill said the union would fight the cuts and called on the government to provide more funding.

"What begins from today is a campaign where we fight for every job, for every programme, for every subject," he told the rally.

Other universities were making cuts, but there was no coordination to protect the national interest, he said.

Green MP Julia Anne Genter, staff and students protest proposed cuts at Victoria University

Proposed Victoria University cuts would eliminate 229 full-time equivalent roles. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"We may end up in a situation where German can't be studied in New Zealand, for example. Otago's already voted to disestablish its programme.

"Italian, it's only Auckland and Vic that teach it. So some of these decisions are going to have really far-reaching national consequences," McNeill said.

A senior lecturer in the university's School of Education, Margaret Gleeson, told RNZ the decision to cease secondary teacher education came as a complete surprise.

"We're all absolutely shocked and stunned at the thought that we won't be preparing teachers anymore.

"We have a national teacher shortage and yet we're giving away this really significant programme which is world-renowned," Gleeson said.

Post Primary Teachers Association acting president Chris Abercrombie said ceasing secondary teacher education would be heart-breaking.

It came in the midst of a teacher shortage, and settling the teachers' pay dispute would encourage more people to study teaching, he said.

Staff and students protest proposed cuts at Victoria University

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

School of Languages and Cultures head Nicola Gilmour said it would lose nine academic staff across three programmes if the cuts went ahead. This would mean losing four languages and the remaining staff would be teaching-only, with no research responsibilities.

Gilmour said the proposed cuts were short-sighted.

"Victoria University had an opportunity to be seizing the position as number one for languages in the country, and now we will be running the same languages as everybody else.

"This year, 2023, is the centenary year of Italian being taught at Victoria University, so it's a tragic moment quite frankly. German has been taught at the university even longer so this is really a very, very sad moment."

Media and Communications associate professor Peter Thompson said staff were worried the university was trying to make job cuts that were unjustified and unnecessary.

"I think everyone's very frustrated and really very angry. The tertiary sector's been underfunded for many years.

Staff and students protest proposed cuts at Victoria University

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"It's not solely the fault of the current government, however the current government's presided really over the decline of the sector under the pandemic, it's done nothing to support us and now we're seeing the results of that," Thompson said.

Students at the rally told RNZ the planned cuts were heart-breaking and disappointing.

Victoria proposes disestablishment of 275 roles all up

Victoria University said it was facing a $33m deficit this year and the cuts were aimed at returning to financial sustainability.

It said it aimed to save $10m in operational areas such as travel and property leases. It also proposed disestablishment of 275 roles, but the creation of some new jobs.

"Of the total number of roles proposed for disestablishment, 36 are currently vacant. It is also proposed that 46 new roles (both academic and professional) would be added through restructuring. The total number of roles proposed to be made redundant is therefore 229," it said.

Jessica Ye, President of Victoria University of Wellington Students Association

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The university said it also planned to discontinue Italian, German, Greek, Latin, design technology, secondary school teaching, and Geographical Information Systems.

It would stop taking new enrolments next year in tourism management, undergraduate geophysics, physical geography,and workplace health and safety.

It would also stop enrolments in its graduate diplomas in early childhood and secondary teaching, and its Master of Teaching and Learning for both primary and secondary teaching.

Theatre, Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, Museum and Heritage Studies, and Classical and Jazz performance would be integrated into other programmes.

"These proposed changes and staff reductions will bring the university very close to addressing its 2023 $33m deficit," the university's vice-chancellor Nic Smith said.

"This is a hugely challenging task and I am grateful for the hard work and professionalism our staff have demonstrated during this process. I know this is a blow to our community, but I also want to acknowledge our areas of strength and distinctiveness, and our historical legacy as a university.

"I remain confident and determined that we will work through this situation and emerge positioned for future success."

The university said it would announce final decisions on 14 August.

"The university is conscious of the need to protect the quality of education and student experience at our institution. We can also confirm that all our current students will be able to complete their programmes of study regardless of any changes," it said.