Staff fume as downsizing university plans offshore campus

Revenue from Singapore venture crucial to ongoing sustainability, says Massey vice-chancellor

August 3, 2023
Source: iStock

A New Zealand university has drawn staff ire by pushing ahead with plans for an offshore campus amid major staff cuts.

Massey University said its joint venture in Singapore, which it hopes will accommodate up to 5,000 students, was a “logical base” for international expansion. “In the current economic environment, it’s important to diversify revenue streams and identify growth opportunities,” vice-chancellor Jan Thomas told staff.

“This compelling opportunity has been given a great deal of thought and consideration regarding the potential risks and rewards, including significant revenue benefits for the university.”

Massey said it was in the “final stages” of consummating a “major face-to-face campus” on the island, with operations to begin next year. While the university has released few details, the deal apparently involves a local partner or partners along with Massey Global Singapore Private Limited, a wholly owned business consultancy established in 2016.

Massey said it has been active in the island since 2008. It offers an honours degree in food technology, taught by Massey staff at the Singapore Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in analytics through PSB Academy. The joint venture will allow it to “expand in different disciplinary areas and further enhance our reputation as a global university”, a spokeswoman said.

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) condemned the move, with organiser Ben Schmidt saying local students were the university’s “foremost” responsibility. “It is disturbing to witness Massey setting up shop in another country while cutting hundreds of jobs in Aotearoa [New Zealand],” he said.

“Instead of building empires abroad the university should be keeping staff it already employs, and serving the students and the communities it is funded by our government to serve.”

The comments follow Massey’s offer of “voluntary enhanced cessation” in the library and academic colleges. The TEU says up to 245 jobs could go, mostly in the sciences and humanities.

Mr Schmidt said the cuts were “incredibly disappointing”, particularly after the government had promised universities a NZ$128 million (£61 million) bailout. “They are being pushed through via policy changes and voluntary redundancy with no real engagement with the staff who will be expected to pick up the pieces.”

Massey’s spokeswoman said the “entirely voluntary” redundancies did not target particular positions and were “just one mechanism to help reduce costs”. She said the proposals had been rolled out in a “highly consultative change process”.

She said Massey had “several projects currently under way to address the challenging financial climate the tertiary sector is facing. Many of these projects…have been ongoing for years as the university remains committed to working in a financially sustainable way.”  

In a recent staff webinar, Professor Thomas identified the “expansion of transnational education” as one of “four big shifts” to achieve sustainability, amid annual deficits that are forecasted to reach NZ$70 million by 2027 unless the university can find savings and extra revenue.

She said the university wanted to reduce its reliance on government funding. While Singapore was its current offshore focus, Massey would “explore other opportunities to ensure transnational education provides the resources Massey needs to maintain itself as a world-class university”.

By 2042, she said, Massey’s aspiration was to have more New Zealanders studying online than on-campus, with most face-to-face students based overseas.

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