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Fee increases, budget cuts and redundancies, oh my!

Matt Russell



University and student organisations are predicting a wave of staff redundancies, budget slashes and fee hikes after widespread financial underperformances last year.

Last year most major tertiary institutions initiated signifi cant budget and staffing cuts, and applied for fee increases of five and ten per cent.
New Zealand universities have increased their fees by the maximum or near to the maximum permitted under the Government’s Fee Maxima regulations. The two exceptions were Massey University – the worst performing of all universities in 2006 – which attained permission for a 10% across the board increase. The Tertiary Education Commission denied Victoria University’s bid for a 10% fee raise on the grounds it did not meet the criteria for exemption.
New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) Co-President Joey Randall says the fee rises are a result to a lack of Government investment in universities and polytechnics. Randall says the restricted fee-increases policy of fees maxima for places the burden of funding onto students. “Fees maxima is actually a bit of a misnomer, really it’s the minimum fee-increase that universities make every year, and we saw that last year.” Randall says the widespread staff-cuts in the tertiary sector had been short-sighted. Citing the University of Canterbury’s Change Document, Randall says planned cuts on the basis of the lowest staff-to-student ratios, instead of on the basis of what was important to the tertiary sector was not sustainable. New Zealand Vice-Chancellor’s Committee (NZVCC) Executive Director Lindsay Taiaroa said that although the government tuition subsidy was raised last year relative to increases in the cost of living, the costs of delivering education have increased by much more.
“We’ve seen widespread fi nancial defi cits as a result of decreasing domestic and international enrolments. Combined with yearly demands for increases in staff wages between fi ve and six per cent means most institutions cannot generate enough revenue to cover their costs. It’s in that context that Universities regrettably have to look to dropping staff and increasing fees, and will inevitably continue to do so throughout 2007,” he said.
Last year Massey and Auckland University axed the greatest number of academic staff. In Auckland 43 jobs are expected to go from within the Faculties of Education, Business and Humanities, with a further 12.25 full-time positions to be lost through retirement, and/or voluntary severance. Massey University dropped a large number of academic staff via voluntary retirement in 2006, and will continue its policy of balancing expenditure by offering staff enhanced redundancy packages throughout 2007. ASPA has recently learned that Massey is set to implement a major restructuring of senior management in 2007, which could see up to five senior management roles disestablished.
Association of University Staff President Nigel Haworth says that although he agrees the tertiary sector suffers from government under-investment, the manner in which Universities have implemented staffing cuts has “on every level” been lacking in “transparency, planning and staff consultation”.
Professor Haworth says that the current sector slump was forecast years in advance, and Universities have had ample opportunity to balance expenditure with declining enrolments and increasing costs.
“Instead, we see crude, slash and burn staffi ng cuts and endlessly increasing student fees. It’s self-evident that the tuition subsidy is inadequate. A more immediate question students and staff could be asking university managers is: ‘Why are we expected to pay the price for your short-sighted financial planning?’”