Uni underfunded, English told

Tertiary Education Union Dunedin organiser Shaun Scott (left, partially obscured) talks to Deputy...
Tertiary Education Union Dunedin organiser Shaun Scott (left, partially obscured) talks to Deputy Prime Minister Bill English during a protest against humanities cuts at the University of Otago yesterday. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery.
University of Otago staff and students protested against cuts to the  humanities division during a visit by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English yesterday.

Mr English was met by about 70 people, many holding signs with slogans calling for the Government to stop staff cuts,  when he visited the campus to give a talk to commerce students.

In August, humanities pro-vice-chancellor Prof Tony Ballantyne announced plans to cut jobs in  anthropology and archaeology, English and linguistics, history, languages and cultures, and music.

The cuts were necessary because of a decline in the division’s roll since 2010, Prof Ballantyne said.

During the protest, Mr English  asked  Tertiary Education Union organiser Shaun Scott how the division’s declining roll and job cuts were being dealt with "internally" and what measures were being taken to attract more students to the university.

Mr Scott said the wider issue was a lack of government funding in the tertiary sector and in humanities specifically.Mr English, who is also Finance Minister, spent about a minute talking to the protesters before entering a lecture theatre to give a talk on the theme "Better Economy, Better Community — Can NZ Do Both?".

The purpose of the protest was not to prevent Mr English’s talk, rather to raise concerns about the vulnerability of the division at a government level, Mr Scott said.

"He [Mr English] is a humanities graduate as well.

"He of all people should understand the value of humanities to society as a whole," Mr Scott said.

The union would continue to work with  affected members in the division.

"It’s a really stressful for anybody going through a process that may lead to the loss of jobs."

He was pleased the minister talked with protesters despite him not having "a great deal of a response" to their concerns.

In August,  staff in the languages and cultures and history departments were told how many staff were likely to lose their jobs but the university has not made those details public.

Prof Ballantyne said cuts in anthropology and archaeology, English and linguistics, history, languages and cultures, and music departments were likely to take effect by November.

margot.taylor@odt.co.nz

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