THE University of Newcastle has unveiled a major organisational restructure and a staff reduction scheme in response to big revenue cuts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
University Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky advised staff of the changes in an hour-long web hookup early yesterday afternoon, with a statement to the public issued shortly afterwards.
In the presentation and in the statement, Professor Zelinsky said the university was expecting a revenue reduction of $58 million this year.
He said he had already warned staff it needed to find $35 million in savings next year.
He said the university had reached "in principle" agreement on some of the major changes with the unions on campus, but the main union, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), qualified this last night, saying there was still a substantial way to go.
NTEU branch president Dan Conway said the "in principle" agreement related only to provisions that were part of the existing enterprise agreement and that other changes sought by the university "cannot" be agreed to as things stood.
Although international students were not mentioned in the university's formal statement, the loss of income led a list of "challenges" that Professor Zelinsky outlined to staff.
He said the university was modelling for an even bigger decline in overseas students than had been previously expected because of COVID-19.
"We've been using overseas students to balance the books and we now know this has been taken off the table, effectively, by what has happened with COVID-19," Professor Zelinsky said.
He said the earliest the university could expect a return of international students was the middle of next year, which was too late given that most of its courses followed the calendar year.
On the restructure, the university says it intends to consolidate five faculties into three groups, which will likely be rebranded as "colleges".
This would save on administration costs and "reduce complexity and overlaps in courses".
- The Herald's Opinion on the university plan
- 2019 annual report shows university with little debt and $500 million in reserves
- Anger in May when union 'agreed' to pay cuts
- University's push for 'pilot programs' to bring back international students (discussed yesterday)
- Melbourne Uni staff reject losing pay rise
"The current faculties are the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment; the Faculty of Education and Arts; the Faculty of Business and Law; the Faculty of Science; and the Faculty of Health and Medicine," the university statement said.
"The naming and new make-up of the three groups will be determined in the coming months, with the change due to be completed by the end of the year.
"The measure is aimed at reducing administrative overhead."
The statement said the university would offer "fewer, better-resourced courses and programs that offer more student-focused education".
Professor Zelinsky said the measures were aimed at achieving financial sustainability and protecting as many jobs as possible.
"We know that we need to achieve savings and my goal is to do so in a way that aligns to our strategic plan and protects as many jobs as possible," Professor Zelinsky said in the statement.
"Our negotiations with unions must conclude by August 10 and I'm committed to providing an update to staff by that date.
"We continue to see strong interest in our courses for Semester 2 and we know people are looking to our University to help them retrain and re-skill and help our regions recover from the impact COVID-19 is having.
The university said negotiations were continuing with "unions", saying it had reached "in-principle agreement on measures to reduce annual leave, long service leave and to offer an early retirement scheme".
"These measures include a requirement for staff to take ten additional days of their annual leave in 2021," the statement said.
"The early retirement scheme is proposed as an option for staff 60 years of age and above and would include incentives to take up the scheme.
"Negotiations continue regarding delaying staff salary increases that are due in September 2020 and September 2021 and delaying salary increments that happen on the anniversary dates of commencement."
Newcastle is the latest in a line of universities seeking to renegotiate workplace conditions with their unions.
Responding to the university's "in principle" claim, Mr Conway said: "We have an in principle agreement to coordinate the enactment of provisions that are available in the existing enterprise agreements.
"That includes annual leave, long service leave, and early retirement," Mr Conway said.
"Beyond that we require management met the threshold requirements which we have communicated extensively.
"Until these requirements are met, we simply cannot agree to any measures which involve a variation of enterprise agreements."
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