Staff are important assets

A KEY union has urged Monash University Gippsland to resist the urge to make its staff “the easy option” for addressing looming revenue cuts.

National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea told The Express on Friday she recognised Monash faced challenges unravelling the implications of funding reductions imposed on it by the Federal Government to help pay for a proposed school reforms package.

However, she said it should not forget “the most important asset a university has is its staff”.

Responding to indications from Monash University Pro Vice-Chancellor Robin Pollard last week that “one way or another” universities would need to respond to the diminishing revenue and this would “impact on students and staff”, Ms Rea said “we would be very, very critical if they do make decisions to cut staff, which then has a direct impact on students”.

NTEU has asked university heads to defer building projects and “other new projects” in favour of retaining staff numbers, but when asked what the union expected of universities who had no projects in the pipeline, Ms Rea said “we are still of the view universities are big organisations and they do have the capacity to make decisions about the way they spend money.”

Last week Professor Pollard told The Express at Monash Gippsland there were no “easy gains to be had” as it had already become “quite frugal in the face of diminishing revenue”, but Ms Rea insisted “even though we are campaigning for more money to come into the system, they can still make a decision (to retain current staff)”.

“I find that very difficult to understand with Monash, which is actually one of the biggest universities in the country and has a lot of space in which to move,” she said. Ms Rea said she recognised local staff, students and their families would be “very, very worried” about the university’s current status.

“I know there are current consultations going on,” she said, referring to a ‘due diligence’ process with Monash and the University of Ballarat over a potential alliance, “but I would hope that if another university does take over, it would have the same level of obligation to people in the region”.

“I can understand people would be very anxious and that makes it important for the university to be as clear as it can be, as soon as it can, about how the efficiency dividend will affect various campuses.

“I know it as been difficult and they (the university) are trying to unravel where the figures have come from.

“We acknowledge the uni was working with one set of budgetary figures and this latest (government announcement) does make it more difficult but it doesn’t change the fact the most important asset a uni has is its staff and you don’t look at the staff as the easy option, when students are constantly saying they need more staff… my view is that would be very short-sighted,” Ms Rea said.

Meanwhile the NTEU has also maintained funding per university student is set to fall as a result of ‘efficiency dividends’ soon to be imposed on the sector, despite the Federal Government’s claims otherwise.

Ms Rea said the union’s research challenged claims by Federal Education, Skills, Science and Research Minister Craig Emerson in an email earlier sent to Monash staff and students.

She said the government’s assertion “real per student funding to universities will continue to rise” despite a $900 million ‘efficiency dividend’ of two per cent to be imposed in 2014 and 1.25 per cent in 2015, was inaccurate.

“The ‘efficiency dividend’ is bad news because it cuts the funding rate per student,” Ms Rea said.

“The NTEU’s analysis of the Federal Government’s own figures, shows that funding per student will fall on average by $332 in 2014 and $488 by 2017.”