University financial crisis not 'clear cut': union

16 September 2014
Participants marching throughout SCU at the Save Our Uni rally last Friday. Photo: Kaitlin Liemandt
Participants marching throughout SCU at the Save Our Uni rally last Friday. Photo: Kaitlin Liemandt

Southern Cross University staff and students rallied last Friday alongside members of the community to oppose more potential job cuts at SCU. 

The Save Our Uni rally, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), is part of a nationwide effort to oppose funding cuts to tertiary education. 

Speakers at the rally said that job cuts had detrimental impacts to the university, which in turn has a domino effect onto the wider community.

Green’s candidate Adam Guise said that education cuts hit regional institutions hardest. 

“There are 50 more jobs to be lost [at SCU] and that is despicable,” Mr Guise said.

“Education is a right, not a privilege.”

Southern Cross Univeristy Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee confirmed that the 50 potential job cuts were inclusive of redundancies made so far, and said that the reduction in staff costs was foreshadowed to all staff through several briefings since 2013.

"We have identified 16 positions at this time and are looking at in the order of up to 50 positions across the whole University," Professor Lee said.

"We are going through a formal consultation process in keeping with our Enterprise Agreement obligations."

Greens Candidate for Lismore 2015 Adam Guise speaking at the Save Our Uni rally at SCU. Photo: Kaitlin Liemandt

But the NTEU Branch Vice-President Jenny Johnston said that feelings of fear and frustration were shared among the staff at SCU following reports that the university stood to lose $60 million in federal government funding. 

She said that many feel that the financial strain at the university has been fabricated and no alternatives to job cuts have been explored.

Ms Johnston called for greater transparency over Southern Cross University's redundancy plans. 

“The potential economic impact for the wider community for these job losses is estimated at $6.55 million over four years.

“Universities are the backbones of communities and their staff need to be valued,” she said.

The Victorian division of the NTEU recently won a case over breaches to employee rights at La Trobe University following 350 job cuts at that university.

The Fair Work Commission found that senior management at La Trobe had breached the workplace rights of staff by suppressing documents and had inconsistent job security obligations. 

NTEU Branch Vice President Jenny Johnston calls for transparency from management regarding financial problems at SCU. In the background is the building site for a brand new library wing. Photo: Kaitlin Liemandt

Craig Wilson, SCU postgraduate student representative said he knows firsthand the feelings of "disdain and dissatisfaction" among the staff.

“I’ve been teaching at SCU for 20 years now and I’ve seen it go through a lot of changes," Mr Wilson said.

“We had a really good reputation, with real classes and real teachers and actual students, but now we are ranked at the very bottom. 

“Courses are being shifted online and enrolment numbers are going over the cliff.”

Craig Wilson tells the crowd at the NTEU rally how much he loves SCU. Photo: Kaitlin Liemandt 

But the university disputes Mr Wilson's claim and said that the total number of students studying at its Gold Coast, Lismore and Coffs Harbour campuses increased slightly since 2010.

Currently about one third of SCU students are studying by distance education according to the university's Head of Communications and Publications Brigid Veale. 

"Most SCU courses are offered by distance education, in addition to an on-campus offering," Ms Veale said.  

"The courses that are offered only by distance education are generally postgraduate."

Ms Veale also said that the nearly 10 per cent decrease in enrolments since 2010 was overwhelmingly due to international enrolments which have dropped as part of a sector-wide trend.  

"It reflects the university’s withdrawal from a number of international collaborations," she said.

Speakers at the NTEU rally also raised questions of a shift to further casualisation of staff in the university's Preparing for Success (PSP) program.

In August a number of SCU staff working in the PSP program were told there would be not work for them next session as the uni was expanding its pool of casuals.

The NTEU is disputing that the move was unlawful citing that SCU is in breach of an employment clause in the Southern Cross University Enterprise Agreement 2010.

On the university's Pulse page many students have anonymously voiced their upset at the loss of PSP staff. 

"To hear that such an advantageous resource is not being utilised is unacceptable. Especially considering how much time and effort [they] have invested into this university. I would advise the university to rethink their priorities, and decide whether the money saved is worth the value lost," one student wrote.

NTEU have also been running a petition which calls for an independent enquiry into the SCU’s finances following claims it is facing financial problems.

Marcelle Townsend-Cross has been a student and teacher at SCU but said she was representing as a member of the community at the rally.

“If management are getting rid of the dedicated people who really care, they’ve lost the plot," she said.

“This institution is here because of us, we’re not here because of it.”

For more information about the NTEU's campaigns please visit the NTEU website or call 03 9245 1910.