Southern Cross University staff are bracing themselves for more pain as management attempt to find $3 million dollars in savings to offset federal government funding cuts.
National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) branch president, Kate Mitchell, believes the university will struggle to find enough voluntary redundancies among its members, raising fears of forced staff cuts.
‘We had 15 staff members cut in a round of redundancies last year, again from a funding shortfall, so we don’t know where they will come from,’ she said.
‘Staff morale is terrible, really terrible. I’ve been here for 13 years and I’ve not seen it at such a low ebb.’
SCU management notified staff on Monday that there would be a round of voluntary redundancies in response to increasing pressures on the university’s budget, ‘exacerbated by the federal government cuts to higher education’.
Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee said it wasn’t an easy decision and followed consultation with staff and representatives from the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) and NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union).
‘The decision to proceed with the voluntary redundancy round has not been easy given my respect for all staff and the roles they perform,’ Professor Lee said.
Professor Lee said there was no firm number of redundancies being considered and forced redundancies were not being considered at this stage.
‘We have asked for applications and will await the response from staff,’ he said.
Universities Australia warned of a ‘Dickensian future’ for students earlier this month in response to $3 billion of cuts in this year’s federal budget, which triggered announcements of voluntary redundancies at Central Queensland University and the University of Canberra.
Meanwhile Ms Mitchell confirmed management had given no indication how many redundancies were needed to make up the shortfall, but she believed it would struggle to balance the books this way.
‘A hundred staff might come close to $3 million but then there’s next year’s budget and the years after that.
‘Surely an organisation of this size should be able to cope with $3 million in other ways?’
The university has given academic and administrative staff until June 21 to apply for voluntary redundancies.
‘The bottom line is there’s a lot of fear and worry about continuing employment and I suspect they won’t get a lot of hands up because firstly we don’t really have any extra staff … we weren’t running on a lot of fat to start with,’ she said.
Ms Mitchell said more than half the undergraduate teaching at SCU was done by casual staff, further reducing the pool of available redundancies.
‘You can’t make a casual redundant and casualisation is very high at SCU,’ she said.
‘In recent years it has only gotten bigger – across the sector it’s about 50/50 for undergraduate teaching and SCU reflects that, but on the higher end of the spectrum.
‘Due to the vocational nature of many of our courses like nursing and education, where in fact many tutors are working teachers and working nurses, we’ve always got slightly skewed numbers, but nevertheless there are many here who have been teaching for more than five years regularly and should be tenured but are not, which is another money-saving strategy.
‘We’re expecting a more detailed proposal from management in the next week or so, and with the June 21 deadline I would think toward the end of the first week in July we’ll get the next lot of news.’