University alliance

MONASH University’s administrative head has dismissed claims the university would sell its Gippsland campus to the University of Ballarat.

It instead announced the institutions had entered a public consultation process to form an alliance to establish a “regional-focused” university.

Monash University Vice Chancellor Professor Ed Byrne said the partnership was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

“We are not selling anything to anybody; we are not taking cash or assets from anybody,” Professor Byrne said.

“We will gift enormous resources into the new institution and get behind it in every way.”

Professor Byrne said Monash had “nothing to gain” from the arrangement.

“We will lose assets and take a big hit to our bottom line,” he said.

“All we stand to gain is doing the right thing, which is contributing to a great regional university that does the best thing for the community here.”

When asked about Monash’s shock decision, Professor Byrne said the university was looking to concentrate heavily on its high-level research base and become one of the world’s top research institutes.

“This dictates the whole culture in the university, which doesn’t always meet the needs of a regional community,” he said.

“Monash has done some things right, but in some areas we haven’t done what needs to be done, and the proof is in falling numbers (at Gippsland).

“If this comes off, (the new institution) would be able to do a much better job than a Group of Eight university.”

Professor Byrne denied staff had been “lied to” with regard to the campus’ future direction.

“This (proposal) came on to the table for the first time in November,” he said.

“We’ve discussed this with our respective university councils and run like fury to give all information to our staff (on Friday) morning.”

Also present at the announcement was State Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall, who said the new university would hopefully become a reality by early 2014.

“This will be dependent on checkpoints, including a resolution of staff and student issues, especially with regard to a guarantee provided by both universities no staff member will be worse off,” Mr Hall said.

“This period of consultation will be as long as it takes to address (outstanding issues).”

As a new tertiary institution, courses like engineering could be reintroduced to the campus, while new courses like graphic design and multimedia and metallurgy could be brought in.

The Gippsland Medical School, however, would remain and retain its links with Monash’s Clayton campus, while students who have commenced their studies this year will be taught out.

This development occurs less than a year after Professor Byrne reiterated Monash’s commitment to Gippsland to The Express.

“We want this campus to be 100 per cent part of Monash University for the foreseeable future,” Professor Bryne said in March last year.

Reactions to the news by current staff of Monash University Gippsland who declined to be named were mixed.

One staff member said Friday morning’s staff meeting was “amicable” despite things getting heated at one point.

“We were under the impression all along the campus would see greater autonomy like the Malaysian campus,” the staff member said.

Meanwhile, former senior lecturer Dr Louise North, from the School of Applied Media and Social Sciences, expressed disappointment at the university’s backflipping on its commitment to Gippsland.

“Staff have been told continuously for the past two years that although there were changes being discussed, the campus would continue to be part of the Monash family,” Dr North said.

Having worked at the Churchill campus for four years, Dr North said she witnessed the “rapid downfall of the campus and the school, and staff morale”.

“Morale has been very low for the past 18 months or more; (we saw) admin restructuring, budget cuts that severely affected what and how we taught, increased use of casual sessional staff and lack of funds for top researchers to meet international research obligations and invitations,” she said.

“There was also increasingly chaotic and unplanned management decisions including the axing of the journalism degree at Gippsland late last year.”

Dr North said she could no longer work under the constraints and left her secure and tenured position at the end of January.