University of Otago to cut jobs, later course cuts possible
The acting Vice Chancellor said that the redundancies were due to a number of factors including a drop in student numbers and insufficient government funding. She said that this meant the University was forced to make “hard decisions” in an attempt to reduce its operating budget by $60 million annually.
The University of Otago has announced that it may make hundreds of academic and professional staff redundant and forecasted the possibility of further job cuts, citing a drop in enrolments.
“More job cuts are likely later in the year,” Acting Vice-Chancellor Helen Nicholson told students in an email.
The New Zealand university will begin taking applications for voluntary redundancies next week, with subsequent compulsory redundancies likely.
Nicholson said that the redundancies were due to a number of factors including a drop in student numbers and insufficient government funding. She said that this meant the University was forced to make “hard decisions” in an attempt to reduce its operating budget by $60 million annually.
The University has since confirmed that enrolments have reduced 0.9% in 2023 compared with 2022. It said that it had budgeted for 4.9% more students than have enrolled this year.
Nicholson said that the University is considering further moves, including selling assets and reducing course offerings in a bid to “fix [its] current financial issues.”
“We will proceed carefully and expect to be able to share more information in the next couple of months,” Nicholson said.
Members of the Otago Tertiary Education Union voted during COVID lockdowns in 2020 to not seek a pay rise to protect the University’s finances.
Union organiser Philip Edwards told the Otago Daily Times that the University’s response was “illuminating” and that “we will want to save every job that we possibly can and yes, we will engage in some kind of action,” although noted that it did not know enough about the redundancies to make specific decisions.
“The problem for us is, if they are talking about hundreds of jobs … what does a university that has 4000 [full-time equivalent staff] look like when you remove 500 or 600 staff from it?”
Forecasts of financial issues by Australian universities were used in 2020 and 2021 to justify substantial cuts to staff jobs, despite eventually recording a collective $5.3 billion surplus in 2021.
The Curtin University Branch Committee of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has condemned the forecast cuts at Otago, saying “we are shocked and angered” by the proposals, in light of Otago staff’s voluntary pay freeze.
“The Curtin NTEU committee calls on the University of Otago to protect academic and general/professional jobs as an utmost priority.”