Three students were arrested at a protest against redundancies at the University of Sydney last week during which a police officer’s arm was also broken. After months of sometimes angry debate, including a hearing at Fair Work Australia, the university has finalised a series of academic job cuts, with 23 staff being offered voluntary redundancies and 20 being offered teaching-focused roles.
A further 32 staff had already agreed to take redundancies and 35 had taken up teaching-focused positions. At last Monday’s rally, about 300 staff and students staged a protest outside the university senate building. A university spokesman said that police intervened after students attempted to break into the building. The three arrested were later released with no charges.
The university is attempting to save A$14 million (£8.7 million) after student enrolments last year failed to meet expectations, although staff members have complained that the university has spent money that could have gone towards salaries on other projects, such as an obesity centre.
Sydney had originally planned to make redundant or transfer into teaching-focused positions 180 academics, using the Excellence in Research for Australia measurement of an “active” researcher – three or more publications in the period between January 2009 and November 2011.
The university’s spokesman said last week that further cuts would be made in administrative roles but that the decisions would be made by department heads. “They’ve been given budget limits and have to work to those budgets, and the cuts they make may be in staffing areas or they may be in other areas,” he said.
Anyone offered a redundancy still has the right to appeal. The cuts have occurred “across the board” although the university will not be announcing the specific departments affected by the redundancies. “The whole point of this process is that it was not done department by department but by research performance and output. There was no quota for any department,” the spokesman said.
Michael Thomson, the National Tertiary Education Union’s branch president at the University of Sydney, said the union would support any staff wanting to challenge their redundancy offer. “I think 23 people getting red notices on Monday was a great shame and a great disservice from the university, but it also shows our campaign has had some wins,” he said, noting that many people who had originally been offered voluntary redundancies had been able to show that they had met the publication requirements.
“The university has got everything wrong with this; apart from doing damage to its reputation and staff morale, they even got the number of people they thought they could force out wrong,” said Thomson, adding that the redundancy programme had changed the atmosphere at the university. “I think it’s coloured it at a really disturbing level,” he said. ”People used to like working here; now there’s bitterness about the contempt management have for staff.”
The president of the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, Angelus Morningstar, said the cuts were inequitable and would result in a decline in course quality. “Research students will lose supervisors, class sizes will grow, and have grown, and more casuals will be employed because the labour is cheaper. The university is not a corporation with an aim to profit; education is a public good for all students, and these are cheap tactics to increase the university’s global rankings.”