Job, course cuts threat

STAFF and course numbers at Monash University Gippsland are being threatened by Federal Government funding cuts but an alliance with Ballarat University remains the best way forward, according to Monash Gippsland’s campus head.

That was the warning – and message – from Monash Gippsland Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Robin Pollard yesterday when he told The Express reduced revenue expectations would have a “harsh impact” locally.

While he maintained the proposal to merge with the University of Ballarat was “not jeopardised” and, in his view, offered the best opportunity to boost student enrolments locally, thus securing more funding, he indicated consideration of job and course cuts was inevitable whether an alliance proceeded or not.

With the community consultation period for the new alliance proposal closing yesterday, Professor Pollard said while it was still a priority to get a potential new alliance “off to the best start”, the availability of less money shed a “harsher light” on those discussions.

When pressed on how that would impact locally, Professor Pollard agreed previous undertakings of no cuts to staff and courses could no longer be guaranteed.

When also asked whether Monash was concerned reduced funding could force Ballarat University to reconsider its commitment to the alliance, Professor Pollard said Monash had not been advised of this.

“Each university makes its own decisions,” he said, but added both Monash and Ballarat University councils were due to meet within coming weeks and while there was “a remote possibility someone will decide more time is needed… to look at their financial circumstances, I don’t think we need to be concerned about that”.

“We understand it would be a grave mistake to prolong uncertainty and anxiety about the future of the Gippsland campus,” Professor Pollard said.

When Ballarat University Vice Chancellor Professor David Battersby was asked if his university remained committed to an alliance, he said “due diligence” on the initiative was continuing but also said it was “too early to assess the impact of the (Federal Government) cuts and once we have received more details from the Commonwealth we will then be in a better position”.

Professor Pollard said even if the proposition was not to proceed, each of the university campuses needed to “plan in the face of revised financial revenue projections”.

“What we see primarily (coming) from the proposition is that the campus has an opportunity to better engage with education in Gippsland and if we are confident and support it wholeheartedly then student numbers will grow at the Churchill campus and university funding is directly proportional to the number of students enrolled so people should mostly be concentrating on growing the campus rather than worrying about cost-cutting,” he said.

Professor Pollard anticipated accommodating further funding cuts would be tough given Monash had already “become quite frugal” in its efforts to “retain effectiveness in the face of diminishing revenue”.

“I think there is going to be quite a harsh impact because there are no easy gains to be had,” he added.

The National Tertiary Education Union has appealed to universities not to cut stuff as a result of the government’s $900 million ‘efficiency dividend’ cuts announced “as part of the broader $2.3 billion slash to higher education funding”.

NTEU president Jeannie Rea said “already too many new and replacement staffing appointments are casual or short-term”.