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Bracing for the cuts

Monday, 24 March, 2014

Government funding cuts to the University of Melbourne might not hit students and staff as hard as they fear. The university expects to see cuts of up to $150 million over the next four years. But the chancellery is responding to potential reductions in public funding by remodelling its administrative sector.

The potential cuts and a “wafer thin” surplus are pressuring the university to make its administration setup more efficient, according to Senior Vice-Principal Mr Ian Marshman.

The scheduled changes have raised concerns about professional job losses and effects on students.

University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Declan McGonigle criticised the university for not consulting more with students about the changes.

“Students have been left in the dark about what’s happening,” he said.

However, according to Provost Professor Margaret Sheil, the university liaised with some students through focus groups. “We’ve involved as many students as we can,” she said.

Many staff and students are concerned that funding cuts might lead to job losses. Yet Professor Sheil and Mr Marshman maintain there are no planned redundancies.

“The goal isn’t to cut jobs,” Professor Sheil said. “We’ve just announced savings targets and some of that will be through procurement and some of it will be through natural attrition.” She said there was even the possibility of an increase in academic staff if administrative costs are reallocated.

National Tertiary Education Union Branch President Ted Clark is less optimistic. “It looks like … there may actually be job losses. But we don’t know where those job losses are. We haven’t been informed of that at all.”

Despite his concerns, Mr Clark said the NTEU is not opposed to trying to increase the university’s efficiency.

According to Mr Marshman, the university’s administrative restructure will involve condensing the existing 11 different administrative divisions into one. “If we can get a lot of [administration] done consistently, once, by professional people, we think we’ll do a better service for students, and we’ll actually save some money, as a result of doing it more efficiently,” Mr Marshman said.

Professor Sheil also told Farrago no academic courses at the university would be cut under the changes. She maintained the “angst” other universities have about reducing programs
is not present at Melbourne. “We are not actually cutting any academic programs,” she said.

However, Mr Clark is more concerned about professional staff having intense vocational work. He feels remaining staff may “suffer work intensification” in order to make services more efficient, but admits this might not happen. Mr Clark cited initial issues with the Integrated Student Information System (ISIS, an online management system mostly used by staff at the university), as the reason for his concerns. He said ISIS’s introduction “meant there was a lot more work for the professional staff, even though it was supposed to be more automated.”

The changes are being implemented as part of the university’s Business Improvement Program, launched in December 2013. The program will be rolled out over the next 18 months. The new model is intended to streamline the university’s back-office functions, save money, and re-invest it into resources and teaching.