Hundreds of jobs ‘under threat’ at Victoria University of Wellington

Restructure proposal follows enrolment crash and sub-inflation boost to teaching subsidies

May 25, 2023
Victoria University of Wellington

New Zealand’s capital city university has reportedly told its staff that one in 10 of their jobs are under threat, six days after the government unveiled an unexpected funding boost.

The Tertiary Education Union has pledged to “fight for every job” at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), with up to 11 per cent of its workforce – the equivalent of 260 full-time employees – facing retrenchment.

The possible cutbacks, revealed in a staff forum, have emerged after the national budget included a 5 per cent increase to tertiary tuition and training subsidies. The hike falls short of inflation, which is currently running at 6.7 per cent, but was more than the sector expected.

“While Victoria University management has been signalling for some time that cuts are on the way, we are disappointed to see that the funding boost announced in last week’s budget has not made an impact on their plans,” said the union’s assistant national secretary, Irena Brörens.

She said job cuts were damaging to students, services and staff morale. “This sort of short-term thinking does not turn a struggling entity around – it’s more likely to do the reverse.”

The university declined to outline details of its restructure proposals pending discussions with staff. In a statement, it said it faced a NZ$33 million (£16 million) deficit this year following its NZ$16 million shortfall in 2022.

It said long-term financial challenges had been exacerbated by a 12 per cent drop in enrolments this year, against a backdrop of flagging demand, low unemployment, demographic changes and cost-of-living increases.

VUW said it was working to boost enrolments and increase revenue from other sources, while also investigating cost-saving measures across all its operations. This included reviewing the “sustainability” of academic programmes and staffing levels.

Vice-chancellor Nic Smith said there were “no easy options” for the university, but emphasised his confidence in the institution’s ability to “adapt and thrive in the future”.

VUW’s student magazine Salient reported that on current spending trends, the university was projected to “completely run out of money” before 2025. It had calculated that cuts to office supplies, staff development and building work on a popular hall of residence would only save about NZ$10 million.

The restructure proposal included voluntary and forced redundancies affecting the equivalent of up to 110 full-time academics and 150 professional staff, with 60 academic programmes under review, the magazine reported.

Union branch president Dougal McNeill pledged that there would be “no done deal” with the institution. “We will campaign hard to stop these cuts. University management, government ministers and MPs should be on notice that our members are not about to go quietly.”

He said prime minister Chris Hipkins and finance minister Grant Robertson had “decided consistently to underfund universities” despite serving as student union presidents in their youth. “Labour need to answer: will they watch universities bleed out?” Dr McNeill tweeted.

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