Victoria University is in financial crisis and announced recently it would cut 150 general staff, put 59 programmes up for review, and lay off 110 academics, reducing the teaching and researching workforce by 13 per cent.
English, Art History, Theatre, Teaching, Sign Language, Chemistry, Maths, Marketing, History, Geography, and more risk losing courses and staff.
The announcement comes after a 12 per cent drop in enrolment and a forecast $33 million deficit this year.
The golden geese, which are international students, aren’t coming back in their pre-covid numbers, fewer domestic students are enrolling, and Government funding hasn’t kept up with inflation.
When I started studies there, there were 22,000 students at Victoria. Now there are 16,000, so it’s not hard to see why the financial warning sirens are going off.
But at a certain point, the Government needs to intervene to uphold the country’s research capability and ability to train a skilled workforce.
The government primarily funds universities on the number of enrolled students, so academic staff and subjects could be axed because of a poor-performing couple of years.
University management will narrow the range of subjects taught and researched, and the quality of the university will decline.
Does the Government want to allow this to happen to our universities?
Does it want to allow the administrative bureaucrats and business leaders to sack the scholars doing research and teaching?
The university management and the Government’s underfunding decisions indicate that they don’t value research and critical thinking in and of themselves; they only care about them when they pay the bills.
But our culture’s richness is so much more than financial – every single subject taught at Victoria contributes knowledge and expertise, which contributes so much to so many cultural and economic fields.
New Zealand should aspire to be a country which runs top-class universities with top-class academic offerings.
At the point where management is ready to gut its academic services because of insufficient funds, it looks like the funding model is at fault.
The “user pays” model in place since the 1990s, where subjects are funded based on the number of students, redirects resources away from core academic services.
Universities spend lots of money on marketing and advertising because they’re competing with the workforce and other universities for potential students – so student numbers have increased a lot.
There is more pressure to pass students to keep them enrolled in future years, which means lots of resources are spent on student support services, and workloads have gotten easier in the earlier years.
The lecturers, who, in my experience, are a clever group of inspiring, competent academic veterans, could lose their jobs if they don’t engage in these kinds of market-driven behaviours to win over students.
And now, after a couple of years of bad economic conditions and a pandemic, the lecturers are facing the axe anyway,
If it was they that governed the university [like they used to], I feel it would be a more vibrant and radical place with more engaged [but probably fewer] students.
Hopefully, the Government can muster up some foresight and funding to stop Victoria’s market-driven management from cutting the legs off its rich 120-year-old community of learning.