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July 24, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Shock Over Proposed Job Cuts at University of Otago

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) has described a “sense of shock” among University of Otago staff members at a meeting on July 14, in which it was revealed that 182 support staff positions would likely be cut at the university.

The restructuring is the result of a Support Services review which began in 2015, the first such review in 20 years.

In a presentation by Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne at the meeting, staff were told that the review sought to create “greater efficiency” and “standardise processes across the university,” while still promising a better student experience and continued support for deans and heads of departments.

During the presentation, Hayne explained that the reduction in staffing would save $16.7 million annually and release more than 7000m2 of space. This money would go to improvement of the research and academic endeavours of the university.

However, Organiser of Otago’s TEU branch, Shaun Scott, believes that the work of the general staff are “part of the core activities of the university” and are an important part of supporting teaching, research, and infrastructure. While Scott believes that improvements to some processes could be made, the proposed cuts will not assist in this.

During Hayne’s presentation, it was announced that there will be a consultation period lasting until August 25, during which staff members can provide feedback on the proposal. An appointed panel will review the submissions.

Scott told Salient that he and other officials are working with union members on a response to the proposal, and that although the Vice-Chancellor is evidently willing to listen to staff members, they will enter the consultation stage “with a degree of scepticism about how much [will change] as a result of the process.”

Scott, who attended the July 14 meeting in Dunedin, stated that despite waiting for nearly two years for the outcome of the review, the staff members were not given a large amount of detail.

The Support Services Review was commenced at Otago in 2015 to consider “how support activities could be reconfigured to best meet the needs of the university.” As an Otago University staff member explained, “the systems we have in each support team are incompatible and inefficient. It means that communication between teams is difficult, at best.”

The “Research and Scoping Phase” of the Review ran from September 2015 to April 2016 and included 74 workshops in Dunedin, Wellington, and Christchurch, with more than 1200 attendees. A range of staff participated, including heads of department, professional staff, academic staff, directors, and managers. In addition to the workshops, a number of drop-in sessions were held, and all staff had the opportunity to submit information via an online form. The total number of web submissions collected was 241.

The “Solution Design Phase” ran from May 2016 to May 2017 and involved further workshops and consultations. As a result, a model was developed to consider and quantify the effort required to deliver support services, and structured the teams required to facilitate this model.

The proposed job cuts are expected to be completed by the middle of next year.

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