University of Sydney targets 164 teaching staff for redundancy

The university says it has to cut hundreds of jobs to pay for building maintenance. Flickr/chengang1029

More than 100 academic staff at the University of Sydney are set to lose their jobs after receiving emails to inform them they could be made voluntarily redundant by July.

The university this morning sent emails and letters to 100 academic staff to tell them that their “positions are being considered for voluntary redundancy”, the university said in a statement.

Management at the university offered voluntary redundancy to a further 64 staff, the statement said, “but because their contribution to teaching is considered important they have been given the option to move to a teaching-focused role. This would be initially for three years, after which there is a possibility they could propose returning to a teaching and research role if agreed.”

The university is also expected to cut about 190 general staff across its 16 faculties, although a spokesman for the university branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, Michael Thomson, said these jobs would mostly be lost through attrition: “As people leave, they simply won’t replace them, creating more work for everyone else, and diminishing the student experience.

"There’s a lot of outrage among staff right now. This is a savage attack on the quality of teaching at this university.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Michael Spence, announced that the university was preparing to cut 340 jobs in an emailed video briefing in late November. He said costs would be cut by 7.5 per cent - $25 million would be saved from the loss of about 150 academic staff, and $28 million from cutting about 190 general staff.

Among the former, only those who have published a certain number of papers over a set period of time are deemed safe, according to a policy published by the university. But senior academics who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the university executive now appeared to be disregarding this calculus, and targeting even those academics who had exceeded the requirement.

“That to me would seem to be placing the university in a position where it could be subject to unfair dismissal lawsuits,” said a highly-placed member of the Arts Faculty. “If this creates legal baggage for the university, then the situation will get very interesting for the vice-chancellor.”

In its statement, the university stressed that no “final decisions” had been made, and that “those contacted now have two weeks to continue consultations with the university as they consider their options”.

Dr Spence added: “The need for this action is deeply regretted. I acknowledge this is a painful process for the university community.”

The university has said that the cuts are necessary to make up for a decrease in annual growth in student income – from the average of 9.6% between 2005 and 2010, to “only 6.99%” for 2012.

Dr Spence said that savings made through the job cuts would be used to cover a backlog in building maintenance, but staff in the Arts Faculty - which is likely to lose about 40 staff - have accused him of driving the cuts through with minimal consultation to pay for a lavish, $385-million obesity research centre.

Mr Thomson, from the NTEU, said that university management “was never serious about genuinely consulting with staff about this proposal. They continue their plans for massive building expansion at the cost of students’ education.”

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