Adelaide Uni cash-strapped; degree axing, 130 staff cuts, and faculty merger on the table
Reporting by Grace Atta and Ivan Jankovic
130 jobs are at risk under a tranche of cost-saving measures announced yesterday
RETRACTION: Since the publication of this article, On Dit has been told by the Univeristy that the proposed restructuring and decision not to re-hire key staff in the Software Engineering program are unrelated.
Student intake for the Bachelor of Software Engineering has been suspended as of Semester 2 2021, following two of the three key academic staff in the school leaving.
The Software Engineering Club announced last week that further student intake had been suspended, with no new staff hired to fill the vacant positions.
Ian Reid, Head of the School of Computer Science, said that the ‘recruitment and retention of staff in particular fields is proving more challenging during the pandemic.’ The ECMS Faculty is considering ‘strategic decisions’ around how to best serve future students in the field.
This news was shortly followed by Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj’s announcement that big changes — including merging 5 faculties into 3 — were being considered to ensure the university’s ‘sustainability and success’ in the wake of COVID-19.
The 4 students who were set to commence their Software Engineering degree in Semester 2 were advised to enter a related degree, such as a Bachelor of Computer Science. The ECMS Faculty did, however, assure current Software Engineering students that their studies would be unaffected.
$22 million budget shortfall in 2022
In the email to students on Thursday 8 July, Professor Høj announced that unless drastic cost-saving measures are taken, current spending would see UofA face an annual deficit of $47 million by 2023. This is largely due to the downturn in new international student enrolments.
$30 million in savings and a $20 million ‘new revenue’ target have been earmarked to address the financial shock.
While the VC noted that the proposed measures are ‘unlikely to impact materially on [students’] current studies’, he heavily implied that the bulk of savings would come from further staff redundancies.
In Høj’s words, they include:
- the possibility of merging five Faculties into three [Professions with Arts, ECMS with Sciences: Ed.]
- exploring efficiencies in administrative services
- rationalising underperforming programs and courses
- a review of our academic workforce — understanding staff activity relative to revenue generation in a new funding environment
- identifying and pursuing new sources of revenue
- a greater drive in philanthropy.
Given the focus on industry areas of ‘growth’ as noted by Reid, the Software Engineering degree could fall under the scope of ‘rationalising underperforming programs and courses.’
At the University of Queensland, Høj initiated and oversaw UQ’s first philanthropy campaign which raised $600 million between 2017 and 2020. He also partnered UQ with online learning provider EdX, and showed interest in online learning as an ‘alternative revenue stream’ for UofA.
Høj also believes merging UofA with one of the big three South Australian universities may be necessary for the university sector to remain solvent.
‘The hope would be that what you save on that administration through scale, that could be spent on more university research and funding’, he told On Dit in wide-ranging February interview.
‘So, I don’t think that the number of South Australians employed by universities would change, but the nature of the job would.’
Last year, 157 staff took voluntary separation packages in spite of ‘better than expected’ figures, including a $40.8 million net operating surplus, according to Høj. Chief Operating Officer Bruce Lines estimated the staff cuts saved $21 million.
At the time, Høj did note that the pandemic ‘caused a much more complex and challenging situation than [the] numbers show.’
Federal government not doing enough
The Vice-Chancellor told staff yesterday that a further 130 full-time job cuts were being considered, potentially including academics. According to InDaily, he put the blame squarely on the Federal Government’s 2021/22 budget.
‘At the start of the year we were quite optimistic about where we were going, then at or on about the time that the (Federal) Treasurer announced the Budget and the forward estimates for the budget two things became clear,’ he said.
‘(One), the Government did not extend the $1 billion per annum supplementation of the research grants (and) two, the forward funding for the sector was not projected to increase and three it became very clear that the Government did not think the borders would open until mid-22.
‘That is where we started to realise that the situation was more dire than even we had feared.’
Students have organised a snap rally outside the VC’s office on Friday 16 July, 12pm AEDT, under the banner, ‘No mergers, no staff cuts at Adelaide Uni! Don’t trash our education!’
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