THE FIRST round of university staff cuts began in Australia last week when Deakin University in Victoria shed 40 academics.
A total of 170 academics and general staff at Deakin will lose their jobs this year, more than 15 per cent of the workforce, although most will take early retirement or voluntary redundancy. Another 1,000 staff at other Victorian institutions are expected to be made redundant.
Universities in the other states have not said what they will do. Those in Victoria have been hit hardest by the federal government's sharp funding cuts laid down for the next three years.
Commonwealth grants to Deakin in 1997 will be Aus$1.9 million (Pounds 960,000) less than this year and more than Aus$6 million down by 1998.
The university's vice chancellor, Geoff Wilson, said the redundancies had been made to achieve savings necessary to meet the costs of the next round of pay rises and to cope with the government's budget cuts.
But the National Tertiary Education Union accused Professor Wilson of failing to consult staff and called on the university council to defer any decision to allow for appropriate negotiations. Professor Wilson would not say what salary increase Deakin would offer staff but said the national average was about 6 per cent. The unions, however, are demanding a 15 per cent increase and are preparing to take industrial action in support of the claim.
Last week, the NTEU decided to ban the release of exam results that would prevent students graduating next year. The NTEU council voted for the bans which could affect about 150,000 students. Council delegates were told that similar bans in Britain in the mid-1980s had forced the Thatcher government to award a pay rise.
The move is a key part of the union's Aus$250,000 campaign to persuade the government to increase funding. The move was described by the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association as an absurd bid to hold students to ransom.
NTEU president Carolyn Allport said imposition of bans reflected staff's anger and frustration at the government's refusal to provide adequate funding. University staff had a strong commitment to providing high-quality education and the best way was by ensuring that salaries did not continue to decline beyond the point where institutions could no longer attract and keep quality staff, Dr Allport said.
The NTEU council authorised the union executive to single out 12 universities this week where immediate talks, and possible industrial action, will begin over the pay rise.
If the union wins significant pay increases at these universities, it will push for similar rises at all the others.