University cuts ‘a huge hit’

University of Otago general staff file back to work after a meeting where they were told 182 jobs...
University of Otago general staff file back to work after a meeting where they were told 182 jobs would be cut. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery.
Big job cuts at the University of Otago have dealt Dunedin another blow only months after the closure of Cadbury was confirmed.

Vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne revealed the university’s plans to cut 182 full-time-equivalent (FTE) general staff at a meeting yesterday.

The announcement comes only months after Mondelez confirmed the closure of the Dunedin Cadbury factory, which will result in the loss of about 350 jobs.

Prof Hayne said the cuts and changes to the way general staff operated were needed if the university was to maintain its "environment of excellence".

"This business case outlines an exciting new way to meet challenges in a sustainable way.

"Doing nothing is not an option, and I am confident that this business case is the best way forward for the university," she said.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said any job losses would be "upsetting and difficult" for affected staff.

"However, the types of jobs in a community are regularly changing and developing, and it’s quite possible the positions would be absorbed within the city," Mr Cull said.

Even accounting for other recent job losses, the number of overall jobs in the city had increased, including a net gain of 644 in the March quarter.

"It’s positive to note the university will be creating an upcoming 1300 jobs from its building programme alone.

"I understand the overriding expectation on the university as a public sector organisation is that it runs as efficiently as possible.

"Notwithstanding these planned losses, I’m confident that job growth will continue and the city will prosper."

Tertiary Education Union organiser Shaun Scott said the cuts were worrying for Dunedin, coming so soon after the Cadbury announcement.

"For a small city like Dunedin Cadburys was going to have significant impact and this does as well," Mr Scott said.

Staff were shocked at the depth of the cuts, and the massive blow for those who lost their jobs.

"It’s a huge hit on the families, the communities they live in and on Dunedin," Mr Scott said.

The union and staff were not convinced the cuts would bring about the benefits the university suggested.

"The scale of what Prof Hayne is planning will significantly and detrimentally impact on the work carried out by general staff.

"This will negatively impact on the service required to deliver high-quality teaching and learning, research and student support."

The shake-up, as expected, included a shift towards a "shared services" model, which meant services such as IT would be run university-wide rather than each department managing its own IT staff.

In her address to staff, part of which was included in a university press release, Prof Hayne said change was needed and the new system would not only save the university money, but also provide a better level of service.

It had been more than 20 years since the university had reviewed the way general staff operated and in that time a "highly devolved" system had developed in which each department came up with its own solutions.

"As many staff have acknowledged during our workshops, these local solutions have led to an overly complex and potentially less efficient system.

"It is also an expensive system that sometimes thwarts our ability to achieve what we want to achieve.

"I have absolute confidence in the university’s professional staff and I know that they will make this challenging but necessary project a success."

University human resources director Kevin Seales said the situation was different from the closure of the Cadbury factory.

"Unlike Cadbury we are still going to be here next year.

"We are not a private company. We won’t be returning any savings we make to shareholders.

"We will spend that money — it just might be on different things than we are spending on now."

The university felt it could be a "world leader" in the way general staff provided support to teaching, research and students.

The savings would help free up resources for teaching, research and buildings, Mr Seales said.

That potentially included allowing it to hire more research and teaching staff.


University staff cuts

182 general staff positions to go.

• $16.7m annual estimated savings

• August 25 consultation ends


Biggest cuts

Administration: Up to 111 (29% of total) staff cut

IT client support: Up to 38 (43%)

IT information systems: Up to 32 (38%)

Student admission: Up to 28 (56%)

• University employs about 2300 general staff.

• About 1200 were part of the review.


What the university says

• Cuts and changes to way general staff operate  needed to keep university competitive.

• Doing nothing not an option as staff numbers have grown in such a way duplication has crept in, making situation ‘‘at best inefficient and at worst unsustainable’’.


What the union says

• General staff crucial in the university’s recent teaching and research successes and cuts risk both areas suffering.

• Staff  shocked at extent of cuts and high levels of uncertainty will remain until next year when many individual staff members will learn their fate.


It would be nice to think the new admin and IT support structures are in place and bedded down before people are cast out. But in the rush to save money I doubt this will occur.
I hope ODT can objectively report the success or otherwise of these moves in 6 months time.

What support structures? There is work to do but no one to do it. The usual practice is to re hire staff on contract. This is a different 'book' from staff positions.