Quality of education ‘at risk’: union

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) is calling on the University of Otago to halt a restructure proposal which could "put the quality of education and research at risk".

Last week, the university confirmed to the Otago Daily Times that the School of Biomedical Science staff had received a proposal which could lead to the axing of 13 fulltime-equivalent academic staff positions.

The proposal is under discussion with staff as the university attempts to find savings within the department of $7.1 million for next year.

But TEU organiser Phil Edwards has called on the university to halt the moves.

"This is a penny-pinching exercise that will do lasting damage to a part of the university that more than pays its way, is projected to grow its enrolments and plays an important role in training future doctors — a profession the country is desperate for more of."

Mr Edwards said part of the issue came from the fact the government’s Budget provided funding for an additional 25 doctors a year across the Otago and Auckland medical schools.

Phil Edwards
Phil Edwards
"If the proposed changes go ahead we will see fewer staff teaching a growing number of students which will put the quality of education and research at risk, which will in turn impact on future financial viability."

A proposal document seen by the ODT said $2.9m of the $7.1m required savings has been identified, but a "further $4.2m must be identified for the 2025 budget for the school".

The school includes the departments of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology and immunology and pharmacology and toxicology, and has about 320 staff.

"This proposal should not be viewed as a reflection on the contributions that BMS staff make to the University," the document said.

"However, failure to address the financial improvements will place in jeopardy our ability to deliver high-quality research and teaching in the future."

The school had 2387 equivalent fulltime students in 2023, and its numbers sit about 2338 for the present year. The document predicts the number to increase to 2468 in 2025, growing to 2736 by 2030.

Pro vice-chancellor for health sciences Megan Gibbons reaffirmed it was only a proposal at this stage and said "the comment regarding selection criteria being weighted against early career academics is incorrect".

"There is no particular focus on or weighting for or against any specific academic career level in the proposed selection criteria.

"We do not anticipate this proposal, should it proceed, will impact on the delivery of undergraduate programmes; and our honours’ students would be able to complete their studies as planned."

Submissions on the proposal close on July 3.