At the end of 2013, the University of Melbourne decided to implement a Business Improvement Plan (BIP), in order to strengthen their position amongst international universities.
The plan was to reduce 540 fixed term contract and casual staff by 1 January 2016, without affecting the academic quality of the university. The intent was to save $70 million, which would then be reinvested into teaching and research.
In mid-2014, the university began a consultation and feedback period with staff, regarding the details of the proposal. The BIP was said to result in the restructure of many non-academic jobs, redundancies and the creation of new jobs.
Professor Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor of the University, believes that such a plan would guarantee its success as Australia’s number one university. “The University is driven by an ambition for excellence. We rate highly in many of the benchmarking studies of Australian university services, we have a strong base from which to build even better services for staff and students,” he said.
The proposal has sparked controversy amongst many staff who believe that the BIP will negatively affect students. Kent Getsinger, a Biomed Student Advisor and National Tertiary Education Union branch committee member, argues that he will not be able to deliver students the support they need due to job cuts.
Graham Willett, a history academic and Vice-President (Academic) of the NTEU’s University branch, believes that the BIP will be very disruptive and chaotic for both staff and students.
Willett slammed the University administration for their handling of the matter, arguing that they treat staff as “disposable units of production.”
Rachel Withers, University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) president, believes that the BIP is well intended but has shortcomings.
“One of the more well known and concerning BIP changes is the merging of all student centres, and an end to faculty based student centres. The University says it is to reduce doubling up of services, but it will be harder for students to get specialized help,” she said.
Withers feels that it will be some time before the true impact of the Business Improvement Plan on the academic quality of education is known. “The university needs to make sure it always has outcomes for students in mind in the changes it makes, and I’m not sure that has always been at the forefront of this process.”