Staff at the University of New South Wales have been told nearly 500 full-time jobs are to be axed to deal with a $370 million funding shortfall as a result of fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
University management on Wednesday afternoon told staff that after reducing “non-people-cost expenditure” and tapping into reserves, it is still short $75 million.
It is seeking 493 voluntary redundancies by the end of the month.
“[The shortfall] will regrettably need to be addressed by job losses.”
If it doesn’t achieve that number it will then move to forced redundancies.
UNSW management must open its books to scrutiny right now. There must be immediate and full transparency over finances and evidence of alternative savings measures including deep cuts to executive salaries and consultancies.
— Alison Barnes (@AlisonBarnes25) July 15, 2020
The reaction from unions was swift and angry.
The National Tertiary Education Union blamed the government’s failure to extend JobKeeper to the university sector for the job losses.
So far there have been about 600 forced redundancies announced at Australian universities.
In a closed-door meeting, university management told students the decision was in order to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19, and due to the collapsing international student market.
“This is a painful but unavoidable reality in current circumstances,” the UNSW said.
“To minimise the need for compulsory job losses, a voluntary redundancy program will be offered, starting immediately.”
NTEU national president Alison Barnes called the job cuts “devastating news”.
“Close to 500 UNSW employees face a completely uncertain future,” she said.
“Responsibility for these losses lies squarely with Dan Tehan and the federal government.
“They have stubbornly refused to extend JobKeeper to Australian universities and failed to provide anything close to an adequate support package.
“Australian universities provide first-class research and teaching, but they have been deserted by a second-rate government.”
NTEU assistant secretary Damien Cahill said many more hundreds of casual and fixed-term positions are also under threat.
“Staff are shocked, they’re devastated, they’re angry. They share the view that job cuts aren’t necessary,” he told the ABC.
“The view of staff is that they’re angry at the vice-chancellor and at the federal government for not having a rescue package for our higher education staff.
“Anyone who losses their jobs at the moment in the midst of the worst financial downturn in living memory is going to find it very hard to get another job.”
The university says it has been forced to make the cuts because of the reduced international student intake due to the pandemic, and uncertainty about overseas student numbers in future years.
“This is a painful but unavoidable reality in the current circumstances,” the university said in a statement outlining the cuts.
The union says it will vigorously fight the cuts.
“We’re calling on the university management to talk to the union about alternatives. We’re calling a meeting of all staff for next week, we think it’s going to be huge,” Mr Cahill said.
“We will mobilise against all job cuts, and fight them with all means at our disposal.”