Cost-cutting moves that would axe more than 100 science roles at Massey University have been met with an eleventh-hour counter-proposal that a union says would spare jobs and work better financially.
Staff and academics in Massey’s College of Sciences have been locked in at-times tense talks with the cash-strapped university’s senior leadership since a sweeping restructure was tabled early last month.
That proposal, aimed at saving some $12 million and still to be decided upon, would slash staff numbers in the schools of Natural Sciences and Food and Advanced Technology by about 60 per cent.
The Tertiary Education Union emailed an alternative plan to the college’s pro-vice chancellor Professor Ray Geor, which it claimed would “significantly outperform” Massey’s.
The union said its plan, seen by the Herald, would achieve a better profit margin and contribution from both the targeted schools – 24 per cent and $10.3m, compared with the 23 per cent and $5.2m in Massey’s proposal – without the need for further redundancies in either Auckland or Manawatū.
It involved taking “blended” teaching approaches and making more efficient use of space at both campuses, including moving most Albany science activities into Massey’s new Innovation Complex.
Retaining staff would also mean much more funding for Massey through the next round of the government-administered Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), while more realistic workloads would “improve research outcomes and reputation”.
Massey University ecologist Professor Dianne Brunton.
The union was critical of the way expenses and teaching income were allocated in the model underpinning Massey’s proposal, along with errors in its accounting of space charges, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
TEU organiser Ben Schmidt said the union now wanted Massey not to go ahead with its proposal and “instead work with staff for a much more positive, constructive and sustainable way forward”.
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One Albany-based scientist facing redundancy, ecologist Professor Dianne Brunton, planned to meet university bosses tomorrow and hoped they would consider the alternative plan.
“It doesn’t make financial sense for them not to do this,” said Brunton, who was among several senior academics who shared their anger and upset before the university’s council this month.
“There will be growth over the next few years because of immigration, so it’s a no-brainer from my point of view.”
Geor told the Herald the timeline for the process had been “slightly extended” to fully consider feedback from consultation, meaning a preliminary decision on the proposal would now come later than planned.
He said that timeline still allowed for a second period of consultation before the final decision was reached, at which point the university would be able to provide clear details about how changes would be implemented.
“The need to reduce costs and generate income to ensure financial sustainability remains urgent for this year and for the near term.”
Massey faced a potential operating deficit of more than $50m for 2023 – much higher than the $8.8m deficit it posted in 2022.
Jamie Morton is a specialist in science and environmental reporting. He joined the Herald in 2011 and writes about everything from conservation and climate change to natural hazards and new technology.
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