Fears staff cuts could 'kill' phys ed school

Past and present physical education students are worried the University of Otago's proposed cuts will ruin the prestigious school.

The concern comes after the university asked for voluntary redundancies in the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences ahead of a review which could result in changes to the curriculum and job cuts.

Pro-vice-chancellor, sciences Prof Richard Barker said the review was needed to keep the school sustainable amid falling student numbers and poor financial performance.

A group of alumni called Phedders United is campaigning for both the practical and theoretical elements of the bachelor of physical education to be retained.

A petition the group launched calling on Prof Barker to take into account the voices of past and present students during the review has attracted more than 270 signatures.

Alumni Louis Brown, who along with two others met Prof Barker last week, said he was worried the cuts were a ``fait accompli'' and had the potential to ``kill the school'' and ruin its almost 70-year legacy.

A lack of strategic planning, leadership and marketing had got the school into the present situation, Mr Brown said.

An Official Information Act request he filed showed the school's last strategic plan expired in 2014 and it had no formal marketing plan, which he said was not good enough.

Rather than making cuts the university should instead market the course properly and develop a proper strategic plan.

Mr Brown, who played a key role in the Student Volunteer Army which helped in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, graduated from the school in 2006.

He believed Prof Barker had taken on board some of his and others concerns and was now holding a ``stakeholders forum'' before the university released its plan outlining possible changes to the school.

This was a step in the right direction, Mr Brown said.

A current student, who wished to remain anonymous, said uncertainty over the changes was causing worry among students as they did not know what papers would be retained.

``There's been a real lack of communication in the fact that we have no idea what is going on.''

Prof Barker said the need for change was clear and as previously reported staff cuts were likely.

``Other than that no decisions have been taken about the future of the school.''

Asked if there had been a lack of leadership at the school, Prof Barker said: ``Our interest is in the present and future direction and leadership of the school.

``Leadership will be needed to resolve the current financial difficulties and I am confident that the necessary leadership is in place.''

Marketing would play a role in improved financial performance at the school and it would consider the views of past and present students during the review.

``We will also take into account the views and needs of other significant stakeholders which include the whole university community and of course the taxpayers who fund our institution,'' Prof Barker said.



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