THE UNIVERSITY of Natal has become the first in South Africa to begin shedding jobs following cuts to government funding.
Around 46 staff have been told they are to be retrenched or redeployed, and more are expected to go as the university turns its attention from the humanities to other faculties and administration.
Several other universities - most of which have had their budgets slashed by millions - are likely to soon start implementing restructuring and rationalisation exercises unprecedented in South Africa's higher education history.
Natal began retrenchment negotiations with academics and support staff on its Durban and Pietermaritzburg campuses on July 1. But the affected academics have vowed to fight back, and have launched a campaign branding the job cuts as hasty and ill-considered.
The university also announced plans to close courses in classics, European studies, and Afrikaans and Nederlands - which it says are failing to attract students and are too expensive to retain.
It is the first round of a rationalisation plan, adopted by the university's senate last month, that proposes cutting non-viable courses and 600 jobs over three years.
"This is not the end," warned David Maughan Brown, principal of the Pietermaritzburg campus, who with Durban principal Ahmed Bawa and the head of human resources has had the task of cutting jobs.
"We have just looked at the humanities thus far. There are other departments that are not too healthy, including in the sciences and applied sciences," he said.
However, it is expected that the humanities will be the worst hit. Government policy favours the sciences, Maughan Brown said, and there has been a haemorrhaging of students from courses such as classics and languages.
Some subjects, including Afrikaans, will continue for first-years, but students majoring in courses to be closed will have to change majors, or continue through Unisa or another university.
Elizabeth de Kadt, acting head of European studies, a Durban department losing 12 staff, said: "By retrenching tenured academics, the university has effectively abolished tenure."