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VUW seeks voluntary staff redundancies after falling enrolments

Report from BusinessDesk
Falling enrolments, particularly in some humanities subjects, has prompted Victoria University of Wellington to invite staff who are “ready to leave” to take voluntary redundancy.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Grant Guilford, sent an email to all staff on Tuesday outlining the voluntary programme. That prompted the Tertiary Education Union to issue a statement calling on him to “come clean” about the university’s future.

Speaking to BusinessDesk, Guilford said the university’s 2019/20 budget was completed and showed the 3 percent surplus required by the government of all universities. But falling numbers of New Zealand school leavers and competition for international students meant the university felt it should take the “prudent step” of seeking a buffer against unexpected events.

“This is about giving us some freeboard in case there are shocks,” he said.

In some areas, including science, healthcare and engineering and “some parts of the humanities”, enrolment growth was strong, but staff-student ratios were getting out of kilter in some parts of the humanities, which he declined to name.

There were no targets for voluntary redundancies and the university reserved the right not to accept applications from academics in areas where there was strong enrolment demand. Eligible staff have until March 29 to express interest in an offer.

TEU deputy secretary Nanette Cormack criticised what she said was a lack of consultation and due process, which “has left a huge question mark hanging over exactly what the VC is planning for the university”.

Press Release – Tertiary Education Union – November 14
The Vice-Chancellor of the Victoria University of Wellington, Professor Grant Guilford, has been told by the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) to come clean about his plans for the future of the university after all staff were sent an email yesterday inviting them to apply for voluntary redundancy. The TEU has also sought a meeting with him to discuss this.

Coming as a surprise to both staff and the TEU, any staff member who has 15 years or more continuous service with the university as at 29 March 2019 can apply for a voluntary enhanced leaving package. No consultation with staff or the union has taken place to determine what levels of staffing are needed in order to meet students’ learning and research needs.

The absence of due process, or an obvious plan for restructuring the university, has left a huge question mark hanging over exactly what the VC is planning for the university. If significant numbers of staff leave without consultation, and are not replaced, such a poorly planned exodus would be likely to have a substantial negative impact on the working conditions of staff. The obligations of good faith and for the VC to be a good employer mean that he should have consulted with staff and their unions ahead of this announcement, including giving the rationale behind such an offer. This rationale is significantly absent from the announcement. There will also be students enrolling for next year who will almost certainly be asking themselves if the course they want to study will be affected. If the plan is to cut expenditure on staffing, this cannot be achieved without affecting students’ education, the TEU warned.

Nanette Cormack, deputy secretary of the TEU, said: “It beggars belief that the employer would make this offer without first discussing with students, staff, or the local community what it means for teaching and research at the university. Staff are understandably concerned about having to make a decision about their job with no information about the future structure of their workplace, and no chance to have a say on what would work best for the university and its students. Based on how the university intends to manage this surprise offer, it is simply not possible for staff to make an informed decision about what is right for them and their families, but also what is right for the students they have dedicated fifteen years or more to teaching and supporting.

“Students themselves are also going to be asking their own questions about what a potential university-wide loss of jobs means for their studies. They’re bound to be looking at their options for next year wondering if their course is going to be one of the ones affected by this apparent restructure by stealth. The VC needs to withdraw the email immediately and commit to a proper review of university structures, involving full consultation. The current way of proceeding, if not checked, will have a profound negative effect on the university and chilling effect on morale throughout the remainder of the university.”

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2 comments:

  1. TrevorH, 19. November 2018, 13:35

    How do they know enrollments have fallen? It’s simply that students have enrolled at the other Victoria universities by mistake. Surely a trivial matter to sort out?

     
  2. Citizen Joe, 19. November 2018, 16:23

    It’s been slightly downhill for Victoria University since 2015 with enrolments down 500 from 27,500 in 2015 to 27,000 in 2017. Changing their name in 2005 to Victoria University (it was the Footscray Technical College a century ago) has not produced a surge in overseas enrolments. They have remained roughly constant at around 5,000. Name changing may therefore not be the easy solution for VUW either…