The corporatisation of Australian universities continues apace, with Federation University Vice-Chancellor Duncan Bentley telling staff on Monday that the regional Victorian institution will undergo a comprehensive restructure to combat an expected drop in enrolments.
The restructure will see voluntary redundancies offered to all ongoing staff, the University’s six current academic schools replaced by three new ‘Interdisciplinary Employment and Start-Up Centres’, and the position of Dean abolished in favour of ‘CEOs’. A “handful” of forced redundancies in leadership positions are likely, with no indication given as to the number of voluntary redundancies sought.
NTEU Branch President Mathew Abbott told Honi that while there were rumblings of a restructure, the decision to offer redundancies to all staff was a surprise: “The big uncertainty is about the scale of the cuts…there’s lots of corporate speak, but not a lot of concrete detail about what is actually going to happen. Withholding information about the number of redundancies being sought seems quite deliberate.”
In justifying the voluntary redundancies, Bentley said that “some people who’ve been teaching for years in an environment which isn’t industry 4.0, society 4.0, won’t be comfortable going along with that.” The Vice-Chancellor further signified a vocational shift: “we are focusing on students who want to get into work right away.”
This apparent shift to ‘employability’ was set directly against “inward-facing models of academia.” The University is already engaged in an ongoing dispute with School of Arts staff over workload allocations which leave little to no time for staff to undertake academic research, and it is feared that the restructure will further sideline research: “It seems that research is being phased out for many, or even most, academic staff,” said Abbott.
The restructure comes despite Federation University posting a $3.9 million surplus in its most recent financial results, and the imminent return of international students. The University is predicting a 37% drop in enrolments between 2019-2022.
In a statement, Abbott said that “we’re concerned about the corporatisation of our university. Deans becoming CEOs, schools becoming employment and startup centres; we’re an education provider not a corporation.
“This disgraceful proposal is also likely to impact on the level of support available to students with professional and support staff to face further cuts and ongoing uncertainty about their roles.”
NTEU National President Alison Barnes singled out national policy as being responsible for the broader deterioration of tertiary education: “These cuts only add to the wholesale job destruction of Australian universities. The federal government has allowed our sector to be smashed and regional Victorians will be worse off.”
Restructure comes amid further forced redundancies
The announcement of the major restructure comes as the University today confirmed forced redundancies for one-third of its academic staff in Humanities and Social Sciences. Speaking to Honi, Mathew Abbott criticised management for failing to reveal restructuring plans while pushing ahead with the redundancies: “Staff members involved in discussions and consultations were not aware of what was going to happen…the whole discussion was carried on in a way that now looks a bit dishonest.”
The Humanities redundancies have been justified on the basis of unprofitability, but Abbott says the new restructure — with its school mergers and managerial redundancies — renders the University’s financial justifications obsolete, since the school and managerial structures on which they are based will likely not exist next year.
Cuts continue nationwide
The Federation University cuts also come as the Fair Work Commission ruled against University of Western Australia staff in a bid to stave off a restructure which will see their sociology and anthropology departments dissolved, and leading academics made redundant.
The job cuts at Federation University are the latest in a wave of redundancies in recent months. Since July, Honi has reported on job losses at Adelaide University (130 jobs); La Trobe (300 jobs); Newcastle University (150 jobs); UTS (60 jobs); Macquarie University (300 professional staff, and 34 academics, including the entire Environmental Sciences department); the University of Western Australia (16 jobs in science, 16 in social sciences, with Anthropology and Sociology to be cut entirely); and Deakin University (200 jobs).