Up to 500 face the axe at University of Technology Sydney

Mass job cuts likely at multiple Sydney institutions as hopes recede for international students’ return

August 13, 2020
University of Technology Sydney
Source: iStock

Hundreds more staff face dismissal from Sydney universities amid dwindling prospects of the return of fee-paying international students.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) now expects to lose the equivalent of 400 to 500 full-time positions next year, doubling earlier job cut estimates. Vice-chancellor Attila Brungs has flagged a “voluntary separation” programme with the aim of saying farewell to staff by mid-December.

“The scale and success of this programme will…be critical in determining financial projections for 2021 and 2022, and in determining what additional measures may be required, including additional job losses,” he told staff.

The job-loss estimates do not include fixed-term staff whose contracts have not been renewed because of coronavirus-induced reductions to budgets or workloads.

Professor Brungs said there were indications of rising domestic demand at UTS, with more Australian students signing up for taught postgraduate programmes. Enrolments in the university’s new online courses have been “well above initial estimates”, he added.

But these positive signs will not alleviate the gloomy outlook for international enrolments, which last year earned the university more than A$470 million (£260 million) – over 40 per cent of its income.

Plans to bring planeloads of students to Australia have been postponed or scrapped, and vice-chancellors are now deferring hopes of large-scale arrivals to the second half of next year.

“Each month that passes without a pilot of the secure corridor for international students to return to Australia raises the likelihood our intake will be significantly diminished,” Professor Brungs warned staff. “This necessitates increasing our preparation for a significantly poorer financial outlook for 2021 and 2022.”

He said that over the coming months, UTS would begin planning and consulting for “broader organisational impacts”, including targeted redundancies throughout 2021.

The University of Sydney, which earned A$1.06 billion from international students’ fees last year, also said rebounding domestic enrolments would not compensate for the continuing absence of foreign students.

“An international student corridor will likely not be in place in time for a positive impact on our 2021 enrolments,” vice-chancellor Michael Spence told staff.

He said revenue projections for 2021 would have to be revised downwards. “We are gathering as much information as possible…on ways to address the expected revenue shortfall for next year.”

Last month, UNSW Sydney announced plans to cut the equivalent of 493 full-time staff. A voluntary redundancy programme is under way, with forced retrenchments likely to follow.

This month, the University of Melbourne revealed plans to shed 450 full-time staff, while Monash University announced 277 voluntary redundancies in May. Such figures are thought to be dwarfed by the losses of uncounted casual and fixed-term staff.

Education minister Dan Tehan acknowledged that universities faced a “serious” challenge. “They rely on income from international students, and obviously we cannot get international students into the country at the moment,” he told the ABC.

“None of us saw what was coming with this pandemic. [It] has literally thrown the kitchen sink at everyone, including the university sector. They’ve been cut off at the knees by what’s happened with the international student market, but a lot of other businesses and organisations are also facing serious issues as a result of the pandemic.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

"Vice-chancellor Attila Brungs has flagged a “voluntary separation” programme with the aim of saying farewell to staff by mid-December." Mid-December? Make's our out the door by end of November VS plan look only slightly more rushed.

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