Jobs threatened as uni looks for more savings

Helen Nicholson. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Helen Nicholson. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The more than 100 jobs cut at the University of Otago yesterday could just be the start as the embattled institution searches for a further $23.5million in savings.

The university needed to make significant savings, and 190 staff had applied for voluntary redundancy.

The university had accepted 107 of these and a further 10 were being negotiated.

Acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson said this amounted to 81 fulltime equivalents (FTEs) and would create a permanent saving of $9m from 2025, year on year.

It would result in a $1m saving this year.

The job cuts follow the 103 voluntary redundancy applications the university accepted in January last year.

However, the university said it was still searching for another $23.5m of savings and said restructuring and further redundancies were possible.

In an email to staff, the university management says it has "identified opportunities to save $38m through a number of initiatives", but did not specify what they were, instead saying "we therefore need to continue with permanent savings identification which may include staff redundancies and management of change processes".

Prof Nicholson said the university remained in deficit and required permanent savings of $61.5m by the end of 2025 so it could return to a surplus in 2026.

"This year, 2023, we need to save $25.8m and we have already achieved savings of $13m," she said.

"We have identified a further $8.7m of possible savings which would result in $21.7m of the $25.8m.

"We still need to identify $4.1m of further savings this year."

Prof Nicholson said the university had looked at the $61.5m of permanent savings required, and identified opportunities to save $38m through several initiatives, including a reduction in capital expenditure and some new revenue opportunities.

"We still have a further $23.5m to find," she said.

"The university continues to work locally and nationally, alongside unions and OUSA to seek additional funding opportunities.

"This includes working with Te Herenga Waka University of Victoria Wellington."

Associate Prof Brian Roper, of the university’s politics department, said the obvious question was how the university was going to find the $23.5m in savings.

"Putting it crudely, in order to meet the savings through redundancies, there could be an additional 200 FTEs affected in future rounds," he said.

"It’s clear that the overall strategy involves reviewing the smaller papers and doing a comprehensive stocktake, putting the departments which run these programmes under intense management."

He described the proposed measures as "fiscal austerity".

Tertiary Education Union co-branch president Craig Marshall hoped university management would work closely with staff to ensure savings did not lead to widespread redundancies.

"There is likely to be efficiencies that staff can make.

"I think there’s been some evidence that the university are looking forward to working more closely with staff for this next phase. I’m optimistic," Mr Marshall said.