27 Jun 2023

Big job losses at Victoria and Otago universities to go ahead despite more government funding

8:33 pm on 27 June 2023
Dougal McNeill, president of the Victoria branch of the Tertiary Education Union

Victoria University Tertiary Education Union branch president Dougal McNeill said universities should shelve their plans for cuts in light of the government's moves. Photo: RNZ / Krystal Gibbens

Major job losses at two universities will go ahead despite a government rescue package.

The government on Tuesday announced a $128 million boost to subsidies for degree and postgraduate enrolments for the next two years as a means of helping cash-strapped universities.

It also announced a review of tertiary education funding and a request for advice to ensure proposed cuts at universities did not threaten the national provision of particular subjects or programmes.

The funding boost followed plans for hundreds of job losses at Otago and Victoria universities and warnings from staff, students and university leaders that the sector was dangerously under-funded.

Victoria University Tertiary Education Union branch president Dougal McNeill said universities should shelve their plans in light of the government's moves.

"The government's bought us time and I think that's a vital first step. So this reallocation means there's room to think and to pause. The next step is for the redundancy plans at Victoria and at Otago to be withdrawn and then we can take part in that conversation about the funding model."

But Victoria vice-chancellor Nic Smith said the extra funding would provide about $6m extra per year for Victoria, which was enough to stave off about a third of the 229 job cuts the university had proposed.

"Our change programme is seeking to save $33m a year, which is the deficit we've incurred. About $10m of that is not related to our people or our programmes, it's operational savings, which leaves $23m," he said.

Staff and students protest proposed cuts at Victoria University

Staff and students protest the proposed cuts at Victoria University. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Otago has signalled several hundred job losses and its acting vice-chancellor, Helen Nicholson said it was too early to say how many roles the government's announcement might save.

She said in the meantime it would continue with voluntary redundancies.

"The problem is that whilst the funding will be helpful from 2024 onwards, it doesn't give us any immediate relief for 2023 and so we will still have to address those immediate financial issues," she said.

Announcing the funding today, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the 4 percent subsidy increase for 2024 and 2025 was on top of the 5 percent increase announced in this year's Budget.

Universities needed help because they had been expecting increased enrolments this year but instead enrolments had dropped, he said.

Robertson said it was up to universities to decide if they change the cuts they had been planning but he indicated some cuts might be unavoidable.

"Bear in mind that the two universities that have been most recently covered, Victoria and Otago, both have more staff now than they did before Covid. Other universities through the period of time recognised that given the funding system for bums on seats and enrolments, that they needed to cut their cloth," he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs