An anonymous group of academics from Central Queensland University has voiced concerns over the way their jobs are being put in jeopardy.
CQU has circulated a change management proposal to staff asking them to contribute ideas towards what he referred to as a recovery plan.
What we know about the recovery plan
Staff were invited to email their ideas to a designated CQU email address. To reduce salary expenditure, the university, so far, moved four senior executives to other roles (good to know they have kept their jobs). Such a remodelling of roles has saved the university $1.8 million. One may ask how much these four executives earned previously.
The second measure was to invite all staff to apply for voluntary separation. The full details of the recovery plan are yet to be released.
On the ground, everyone you speak to is worried. Is it going to be me? How long I have left? Staff mental health conditions have deteriorated badly since the VC webinar on 20 April. The only question occupying staff minds is when and not if I’m going to be sacked.
Sentiments are high. There is a growing sense of disappointment with the way Professor Nick is handling the situation. “He is not listening to anyone,” says one of the academic members who had previously witnessed the 2005 and 2013 university restructuring.
Another said “it seems the VC is so focused on cutting jobs. He is refusing every solution thrown at him, no matter how good or bad it is”.
In a series of daily videos posted by the university on YouTube, Professor Nick appears to respond to staff recovery suggestions. Here is a transcript of some of the questions the VC answered in the video posted on 22 April.
“Can we all [all staff] take a 10% pay reduction or decrease our superannuation contributions or everyone go to a four-day week?”
The VC answer:
“Brilliant question. People are asking that because they’re wondering whether everyone collectively can help save the jobs of others. The answer is right now we cannot. It will require a change in our enterprise agreement.”
Then the VC goes into explaining how there is a discussion with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at a national level.
Many of the staff we spoke to confidentially were not convinced with what the VC has said next.
In his video, the VC continues to say:
But can I emphasise one other point, I think I have made this point clearly... those sorts of things as magnificent and selfless as they are, will help in the short term... and will certainly save jobs in the short term. It still doesn’t fix the long-term reset. We've got to accept we are going to have 30% fewer international students in the out years.
What we don’t want to be doing is having this conversation again next year and again the year after.
Why staff are disappointed
Most of the staff expressed their disappointment and believe that the VC is not doing enough. He should at least try to save our jobs like other universities are doing. Who knows how 2022 or even 2021 looks from now? As many other Australian university VCs said, it is difficult to see how things will turn out.
Many staff are asking what if the border opens in a few months and international students started to come back? What if the reductions in student enrolments were 15% or 20% and not 30%? Could we have done more to save jobs? Well, at least you have to try to find out.
To make plans for 2022-23 based on the current state of 2020 seems unreasonable to say the least. Why can’t our VC follow the footsteps of other universities?
So, what are some other universities doing?
The financial losses have hit all Australian universities across the sector. Below are some of the measures some are taking.
University of Wollongong
The UOW website reads:
‘...we are asking everyone to consider other ways they may contribute to the University’s financial sustainability, including considering a temporary and proportionate reduction in your salary and/or working hours or taking annual and/or long service leave.’
VU has already actioned several cost savings.
It has also advised their staff in an email that:
...further changes in external conditions may mean that we need to look at additional measures, such as exploring the possibility of reduced time fractions of staff, as well as ongoing leave management for some of our staff going into 2021. In the meantime, we are looking for staff to take any excess annual and long service leave where it is appropriate.
Swinburne University of Technology:
SUT has introduced a new program of “contribution leave”.
In an email sent to staff, the university invited
...all ongoing and fixed-term employees to temporarily take 10% of their ordinary fortnightly hours of work as unpaid leave. This arrangement is equivalent to one day per fortnight for a full-time employee. This contribution leave arrangement is voluntary and you may opt out. However, we need your help wherever possible to keep Swinburne financially viable and protect jobs.
Western Sydney University
WSU is considering a gradual approach as well. In an email sent to staff, the WSU VC warns that with the situation in progress, ‘it is difficult to be definitive about the steps we need to take’. The VC then summarises they key areas which are currently being discussed (not areas of agreement yet, these are areas of discussion).
- workload adjustment for academic and professional staff;
- reducing leave balances;
- purchasing additional leave;
- fractional appointments;
- voluntary retirement program; and
- salary impacts: We may need to consider measures to reduce salary expenses, including cancellation or postponement of salary increases, a freeze on salary increments or other salary reductions.
La Trobe University
La Trobe has also invited staff to consider voluntary contributions to help manage an earnings shortfall estimated at up to $150 million.
UNSW Sydney Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs has made a similar appeal to staff as he grapples with an estimated $600 million budget shortfall. Proposals at UNSW include cutting working hours, “purchasing” extra leave and accepting voluntary retirement.
Where to from here?
We are calling on CQ University to let us “have a go”, to at least try to save our jobs or some of our jobs. We are asking Professor Nick to reach out to other universities and draw on their experiences in managing the situation. We are calling on the University Council to protect our jobs. We are calling on our colleagues not to be afraid and to speak up, on the media to carry our message, and on the Government to step up.
It seems unfair that hundreds of people will lose their jobs because Professor Nick doesn’t want to redo the numbers next year.
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