NZ union ‘shocked and horrified’ at AUT’s proposed 230 job cuts

Auckland University of Technology proposed staff cuts
Auckland University of Technology proposed staff cuts ... "that's horrific, really horrific, is the numbers of staff that they're talking about." Image: Cole Eastham-Farrelly/RNZ

RNZ News

A union representing New Zealand tertiary sector staff says a proposal which could lead to massive job cuts at the Auckland University of Technology came completely out of the blue and was a major shock.

Around 230 jobs could be axed as the university suffers a significant drop in international student enrolments, due to the covid-19 pandemic.

AUT yesterday announced it would review administration and support roles and a small number of courses with low enrolments.

Programmes included in the university’s proposal included Bachelor’s degrees in Social Sciences, Conflict Resolution, Japanese Studies, and English and New Media.

The faculty with the highest number of proposed cuts is Design and Creative Technologies, with 50 jobs being axed.

Tertiary Education Union national secretary Tina Smith told RNZ Checkpoint she was shocked and horrified by the depth of the cuts.

“The thing that’s horrific, really horrific, is the numbers of staff that they’re talking about – they’re talking about 150 academic and about 80 general professional staff and that’s full time equivalent, in real numbers, in real people numbers, that could be a lot more.”

Smith said a member who had worked there for more than 20 years told her they had never before seen cuts of this magnitude.

Significant international student drop
Costs had increased, international student numbers had dropped significantly, and it had fewer New Zealand students than last year because more people, including school leavers, were choosing to work instead of study, AUT said.

AUT vice-chancellor Toeolesulusulu Professor Damon Salesa said the proposed staff cuts would reduce spending by $21 million a year.

Smith acknowledged that student numbers would be down next year because students had had a tough time due to covid and there was a workforce shortage.

“So there’s that option for students to go and earn some money instead of study,” she said.

“But what we need to do is encourage people into the long-term futures that will do the best for them and their whānau, which is gaining the real skills that they need to rebuild our economy, this country and for businesses.”

Cutting courses and students was “short-term thinking” and not the right approach, she said.

Smith acknowledged that some courses did have low student numbers but said it was important to keep those staff on board and look at alternatives for them.

Faulty ‘benchmarking’
“One of the things they’re [AUT] using for their rationale is that the percentage of staff of our operating expenses is above the benchmarking of other universities.”

But AUT was a comparatively new university so had higher debt and less reserves than some of the more established universities, she said.

AUT had had a high percentage of lower decile students and had been a good employer in the past, Smith said.

“So why change a formula that worked really well? Yes, it’s going to be a bit of a rocky time – but what you do in a rocky time is you stand together, you hold tight and you say, ‘we’re going to take the long view’.”

It was essential not to lose what made your institution valuable, Smith said.

  • AUT made a $12.9 million surplus in 2021, after a $12.3 million surplus in 2020. The university more than 4300 staff and 27,000 students. It has a policy of being the “university of choice” for Māori and Pacific students.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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