Dangers for NZ seen in cuts

University of Otago postgraduate geology student Jack Beagley says he is worried about the effect...
University of Otago postgraduate geology student Jack Beagley says he is worried about the effect of proposed cuts to the geology department. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A postgraduate geology student says proposed cuts to the University of Otago’s geology department could limit New Zealand’s capacity to respond to natural disasters.

The geology department has been an important part of the institution since the 19th century, initially within the School of Mines which was formed in 1878, before becoming a standalone department in 1926.

However, the department is facing severe cuts to academic staff of 23% and 39% for professional staff (of 14.1 and 9.65 full-time equivalents, respectively), according to its management of change proposal.

PhD student Jack Beagley said the proposed cuts could "imperil the nation’s capacity to respond to future disasters".

"These proposed cuts will significantly impact key research that is being done in climate change, natural hazards, water quality and many other fields," he said.

"Some will no doubt be heavily scaled back or stopped altogether."

Mr Beagley said the earth sciences in which the geology department specialised were important in the context of risks New Zealand faced as evidenced by the plethora of devastating events experienced in the last year alone.

"The consequences are even more acute with other cuts being made to the geosciences at other universities around Aotearoa."

Mr Beagley said an online petition had been set up, calling on the university to reconsider its proposal. It already had more than 2000 signatures and there had been support from overseas.

Although he acknowledged the department had a battle on its hands, Mr Beagley said he remained optimistic a solution could be found.

"I’ve been encouraged by the feedback we’ve received in support of the department and against the proposed cuts," he said.

"For a country surrounded by volcanoes with water security issues and severely declining freshwater quality, and in a world where the climate crisis is causing more and more extreme events and deaths, these cuts are deplorable and should be untenable."

In confirming the proposal, sciences pro-vice-chancellor Prof Richard Barker has previously said "with a consequential drop in income, the department has become reliant on a large subsidy from the university to allow it to operate, a situation that is unsustainable".

Prof Barker said he was aware that such changes were difficult for affected staff and potentially unsettling for all at the university.

"The expertise that the department contains is a critical part of not only the university’s future but also [for] Aotearoa New Zealand.

"The changes proposed are designed to preserve our core strength in geology while also addressing an urgent financial imperative for the university."

Prof Barker declined to comment further when approached yesterday.

People have until tomorrow to submit on the change proposal.