University makes cuts

Harlene Hayne.
Harlene Hayne.
the University of Otago's divisions have responded to a call to find cuts as the university faces a tight budget, vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne says.

This comes as the university's council yesterday passed a "difficult" budget for 2013 amid tight government funding, falling enrolments and increased costs.

Prof Hayne said at a university council meeting that given this environment, the budget "was not easy to balance".

However, largely because the divisions had responded to a call to find cuts, it had been able to come up with a budget that ensured "high quality" services would continue to be provided to students.

Otago University pro-vice-chancellor health sciences Prof Peter Crampton told the Otago Daily Times the funding situation meant the division and departments within it were looking for "simple" and "not so simple" cuts.

"We are doing the prudent thing, which is being very careful about working with a three-year budgeting horizon, so every staff appointment is now made within the context of 'well how is that going to be in three years [and] is this a sustainable appointment'.

"Whereas five years ago, with growth funding, it was far less focused on those sorts of discussions, because we were confidently predicting a growth in funding year by year," he said.

When it came to "simple cuts", the health sciences division was looking to make savings on contracts on "everything from photocopiers to laboratory supplies".

The "not so simple cuts" included looking at the opportunities to take advantage of video-conferencing to increase sharing across the School of Medicine's three campuses.

Prof Crampton predicted the tight funding environment would last for a while yet.

"I think we have had eight to ten years of essentially growth funding and expansion of programmes and expansion of research ... and now I anticipate we will be approaching roughly the same period of time, maybe longer, who knows, of more constrained funding."

Despite this, the cuts would not affect the student experience, he said.

"It's the poor heads of departments that have to sweat through their annual budgets ... they are the ones who really experience it and staff members at the coal face will be experiencing, in some instances, the pressure of tougher times."

Otago University director of financial services Grant McKenzie said the tight financial situation meant the divisions had to operate with less money.

As a response to that, both the service and academic divisions had cut costs and carried out reviews looking for efficiencies.

The academic divisions had also used carry-forwards, which were savings from previous year's budgets, in order to to "lessen the impact of a tight financial situation".

However, the use of carry-forwards did not negate the need to search for savings as the carry-forward balances could eventually run out.

"Divisions and departments know that carry-forward balances only provide a short-term solution, so it is unlikely they will depend on them to deal with an ongoing tight financial situation and not look at other options," he said.

The budget noted that the academic divisions had budgeted to spend $8.36 million of carry-forwards next year, which would leave a total remaining balance of $48.282 million.

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