University decision imminent

THE Latrobe Valley community will know by tomorrow whether Monash University and the University of Ballarat will forge ahead with a regional university alliance, though a Gippsland campus briefing yesterday left staff feeling the plan was a “done deal”.

The Express understands a draft implementation plan was presented to local staff yesterday in anticipation the merger would be agreed to ‘in principle’ by both university councils.

Yesterday Monash University Gippsland Student Union executive officer Dan Jordan warned, if they did, Gippslanders were “in some ways being asked to buy a house without seeing a contract, with no pest inspection or engineering report”.

Monash University Council met yesterday afternoon and tomorrow morning the University of Ballarat Council will consider the outcomes of its due diligence process on a potential merger. By Friday morning a joint university announcement is expected.

MUGSU has released its submission on the proposition, put to both universities during a recent community consultation process.

Mr Jordan said the submission was based on extensive consultation with the Monash Gippsland student body, and raised numerous concerns about the proposal.

The submission outlined options the union believed should be made available to local staff outside of their current Enterprise Agreement, in recognition of the “large and disruptive” nature of a potential merger.

It also questioned Monash’s commitment to ‘gift’ the Gippsland campus its resources, assets, intellectual property and staff to Ballarat and called for an independent audit of all assets to “ensure they are properly accounted for” and crossed over “in their entirety”.

Mr Jordan said he feared local assets had begun to erode from the time of February’s announcement a merger was on the table.

MUGSU’s submission maintained it was “extraordinary” Monash had not detailed the drivers it claimed had led to merger talks.

“They have not identified any structural/systemic reasons for the static position/decline of the campus over past decades,” it read, going on to query how Monash could then rationally conclude a merger was the best option.

It said Monash spent almost $17 million on consultancies in 2012 and asked why a “thorough” study had not been done on issues facing the Gippsland campus.

The submission recognised off-campus student numbers had declined over five years to 2012, though on-campus student numbers had grown marginally but insisted it “hardly seems a reason to disengage abruptly from Gippsland”.

It also backed claims made widely by Monash staff and academics that Monash had “taken unilateral decisions that have negatively impacted the Gippsland campus” including discontinuing Open University Australia undergraduate subjects, costing the campus $4 million per annum.

“It is worth noting that since the ‘proposition’ has been put on the table

Monash is claiming the operating loss for Gippsland is $4.5 million per annum” the submission stated.

Asking how much Gippsland stood to lose if Monash withdrew from the region, the submission cited figures showing the campus was estimated to generate “up to $106.118 million of output in the Latrobe economy”, “up to 910 jobs”, “up to $50.007 million” (in wages and salaries) and a total value-added worth estimated at $68.149 million.

It went on to suggest the possibility of Gippsland remaining part of Monash and accommodating its own faculty, addressing an existing problem of “too many ‘indians’ at Gippsland and not enough ‘chiefs’,” owing to eight schools located on the campus, but no faculty of its own.

Mr Jordan said the submission did not intend to “denigrate Ballarat” but he was concerned a merger would be “a step backwards”.

Referring to the brief consultation process preceding this week’s scheduled announcement, Mr Jordan said support from the community should have instead been sought once a business model had been developed showing the plan’s economic viability.

“Instead it’s like buying a house on ‘spec’,” he said, asking “what can we do in 12 months if the roof leaks, the wiring is faulty and the plumbing still isn’t connected… who will fix it up?”

Mr Jordan said he was “astonished” the proposal had already secured in-principal support from the Gippsland Tertiary Education Council and local MPs. 

“They wouldn’t buy a house on spec,” he said.