COVID-19 has impacted almost every sector of the Australian economy to some degree, and our universities - increasingly reliant until now on income from fee-paying international students - realised early on that they would be in the firing line.
Yesterday the University of Newcastle joined a line of institutions to unveil substantial cost-cutting programs as a result of their income pressures, with Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky laying out the situation to staff by the coronavirus-driven method of an online hookup.
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Seeking to save $35 million next year as a consequence of a projected income reduction this year of $58 million, Professor Zelinsky and his senior managers have come up with a package of measures that go beyond the minimalist approach of trying to make up all of the savings through staff cuts.
Some of the changes, including a reduction in capital spending and a "consolidation" of the existing five faculties into a smaller grouping, were flagged in a similar address to staff at the start of the month.
The university says an early retirement scheme, and ways to reduce the institution's leave liabilities, have been agreed to "in principle" by the National Tertiary Education Union.
But a proposed "delay" of already agreed-to pay increases until the end of next year, will need a staff vote in favour to vary their enterprise agreements.
Although the coronavirus pandemic makes a major pruning of the university's cost base effectively unavoidable, longer serving employees at Newcastle may well feel as though their workplace has been in a permanent state of overhaul and restructure.
Nor is the university made up simply of academics, and teaching.
The university's latest annual report says its full-time-equivalent staff roster of 2766 includes 1598 professional, or non-academic staff, compared with an academic employment of 1137.
These numbers do not include casual staff, who are often the first to be dispensed with in situations such as these.
Answering a question after his main address yesterday, Professor Zelinsky assured his audience that the bulk of the savings would not be coming from cutting casuals.
Regardless of where they come from, the savings will be found, though.
In Professor Zelinsky's words, the reorganisation will be done "in a way that best suits the university business".
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