Anger over Massey’s plan to switch teaching locations

Science students may be required to move about 250 miles from current Auckland campus as university attempts to mitigate a contribution shortfall

三月 6, 2020

A mooted shake-up at Massey University could force students to switch places from either end of New Zealand’s North Island.

In a discussion document, Massey proposes winding up science courses at its Auckland campus at the end of the year. Continuing students would have the option of switching to online study or moving to the university’s original campus in Palmerston North, about 250 miles south.

Alternatively, they could find another university, “change specialisation” or drop their studies entirely. Meanwhile, information technology, engineering and construction students would migrate in the opposite direction, with their Palmerston North courses dismantled and Auckland installed as the “anchor campus” for these disciplines.

Ray Geor, pro vice-chancellor of Massey’s College of Sciences, said the college needed to eliminate “duplication of disciplines” by rationalising classes in one or other of the campuses, supported by a “modern, practical and interactive digital curriculum”.

He told Times Higher Education that the transformation was “urgent and necessary”, with the college facing a NZ$15 million (£7.3 million) “contribution shortfall” in 2020.

The document says other restructuring options − such as reducing spending on teaching, or elevating student numbers − are “simply not realistic” solutions to a revenue crisis sparked by “flat” domestic enrolments, sliding per-student funding rates, mounting infrastructure costs and declining earnings from the Performance-Based Research Fund.

Critics say such claims overlook the enrolment potential in Auckland, one of the fastest-growing parts of the country. Government growth projections suggest that Auckland will receive 60 per cent of New Zealand’s 100,000 additional school places this decade.

Massey mathematician Gaven Martin said few science students would countenance a move to Palmerston North, and most would struggle to secure places in another Auckland university. He predicted redundancies for dozens of Auckland-based academics and said PhD students would also suffer.

“They’re going to have to find new supervisors, new projects and new funding. Where’s that going to come from?” he asked.

The university has set a self-imposed deadline to resolve a financial problem “entirely of its own making”, Professor Martin said, with all colleges obliged to help meet the costs of building new “digital infrastructure”. He said it was unreasonable to expect the sciences to make the same contribution as more profitable areas such as business.

The university had blindsided staff and students in a “cynical attempt to limit feedback”, he added. “This proposal was dropped at lunchtime on the first day of classes while we’re teaching a new course.”

Professor Geor dismissed suggestions of obfuscation, saying there was “never a good time to have these discussions”. He characterised the document as a “first possible step” and said there would be further consultation − along with financial modelling − if a formal “proposal for change” transpired.

Professor Geor said that the college’s contribution to the digital upgrade accounted for only about one-third of its financial shortfall. Even without that requirement, the college still faced a NZ$10 million hole. “These discussions, while tough, are urgent and cannot be deferred,” he said.

Minutes from Massey’s 5 March council meeting suggest that the university’s finances are tight, with income exceeding expectations by NZ$23 million in the 2019 financial year but expenses blowing out by NZ$38 million − producing a razor-thin surplus of just 0.2 per cent.

However, “the university’s balance sheet continues to be strong”, according to the minutes.



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