UofA job cuts: Uni backtracks on numbers, but outlook still grim says NTEU
Words by Ivan Jankovic
The Faculty mergers will result in 104 job losses, according to a leaked proposal
On Thursday 30 September, UofA staff were provided with a Draft Change Proposal (DCP) which explained how the proposed organisational restructure would affect existing jobs.
Largely owing to campaigners from No Adelaide University Cuts, the document has been circulated amongst students and the general public. Here’s what it tells us.
Why is UofA shedding staff?
UofA aims to generate $30 million in savings to address an estimated $47 million financial shortfall, largely due to the lack of new international student enrolments.
To reduce administration costs, the Faculty of Arts will be merged with Professions, and ECMS with Sciences. The Faculties’ new names have not been confirmed.
This process, and ensuing job losses, will save $16 million per annum, according to Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj, writing in the DCP.
Høj notes the ongoing influence of “geopolitical tensions, which will require the sector, and the University, to adapt and reconsider its position globally.”
This may be alluding to Australia’s simmering relations with China, which sent over about a third of the country’s international students in 2019. Earlier this year, some Chinese school-leavers were reportedly told not to consider Australian universities for tertiary study going forward.
UofA has also committed to long-term academic staff cuts to the tune of $10 million. A University spokesman said this process will begin next year. Some low-enrolment courses will consequently be discontinued.
Høj said that the current measures “are unlikely to impact on our students’ current studies” as they apply to professional staff in back of house roles.
Last year, 157 staff took voluntary separation packages, which saved UofA $21 million.
Who will lose their jobs?
The proposal estimates slightly fewer net job losses than earlier forecasts (104 compared to 130) owing to new positions. Staff whose positions have been made redundant will be given “first opportunity” to apply for new roles.
8 library staff will be laid off in addition to the 15 sacked last year. According to the report, the University’s focus for the last few years has been “the increased provision of digital collections and services”, which are generally less expensive to manage. However, 3 additional specialist Senior Library Officers will be hired to compensate.
The Maths Learning Centre has been a point of contention online, with conflicting reports about whether support would be diminished.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Jennie Shaw told On Dit that “service levels and access to the Maths Learning Centre will not change under the measures being proposed.”
“The MLC is an area in which we increase/decrease service hours depending on student need. For example, the University recently hired three new tutors in the MLC to provide a high level of service to students as we head into the final weeks of classes for 2021.”
She also said UofA has committed to increasing funding for the service in 2022.
However, On Dit understands that two permanent positions will be made redundant. On page 201, the one Lecturer and one Associate Lecturer refer to the two current academic staff who provide full-time support to students in the Drop-In Centre.
Only one new full-time position — named MLC Coordinator — will be introduced in its place, which means that even if one of the current staff successfully reapply for the job, the centre will be down at least one full-time staff member. Presumably, this will leave casuals shouldering more of the work based on seasonal demand.
Some staff have also privately speculated that the MLC may be under-equipped to run in-course tutoring to the same lengths it has in the past. They encouraged students to voice their concerns at VCfeedback@adelaide.edu.au.
Will student counsellors be sacked?
Alarms were raised by the fact it appeared up to 8 student counsellors would be laid off, in a time when demand for mental health services among students has skyrocketed.
However, Shaw told us “there will be no net FTE loss within the Student Life counselling service”, even though some counsellors will ostensibly be let go.
“Currently, there are dedicated counsellors who have been providing triage as well as ongoing support and training to service all students. Over time other student counsellors have also been required to help fulfil this role. This is not the most efficient and effective use of their time.”
She said hiring 2 additional dedicated Triage and Crisis Response Officers “will help to free up other counsellors to dedicate more of their time towards the important work of counselling students.”
“There are also additional FTE counselling resources not shown in the Draft Change Proposal, which are proposed to be funded separately. We are currently working through the process to secure those services.”
In the past year, some students have reported up to 4-week wait times to access counselling services. There is also no mention of additional specialist support for the Roseworthy rural campus, where students can only book appointments with visiting psychologists on Tuesdays.
Were staff consulted before the proposal was released?
A University spokesperson told us that over the past three months, the University has engaged in “extensive consultation,” with 3,800 staff attending in person or online forums. “Hundreds of emails” have also been received as part of the process.
However, NTEU Adelaide branch president Kent Getsinger said that “no strategic plan nor process mapping” has been presented to the union “that shows why the proposed changes will lead to the results claimed of being more sustainable.”
“Under our Enterprise Agreement, redundancies can only be considered where work no longer exists. Under this plan, remaining staff will end up with unsustainable workloads.
“If we are to maintain and build on our world-class research and teaching, then academic and professional staff require secure working conditions. We also need stability and trust in our leadership to work in the best interests of the University.
“As university staff and NTEU members we know that honest, evidence-based and democratic decision-making will guarantee a future for our University. There are many alternatives that could be pursued before forced redundancies.”
Getsinger encouraged staff to sign the union’s petition against the cuts here.
In a statement published on Facebook, No Adelaide University Cuts, a grassroots movement of left-aligned students, said the 400-page document is “intentionally vague and unclear.”
“It provides no information on academic staff cuts and the extent to which casualisation will increase. What is clear is that for staff made redundant, they will be put through a degrading process of competing with each other for a limited number of new positions, often on significantly worse pay and conditions and with higher workloads.
“We can expect another wave of casualisation that will replace experienced permanent staff with casuals squeezed by the burden of less paid hours and less job security.”
The consultation period closes on 22 October, and the final proposal will be implemented by end of March next year.
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