Nearly 200 jobs to go but Wellington university averts some cuts

Small windfalls and ‘passionate advocacy’ spare several dozen more redundancies at Victoria

September 22, 2023
Victoria University of Wellington
Source: iStock

An insurance payout, philanthropic support and a small government funding lifeline have averted some of the planned job and course cuts at New Zealand’s capital city university.

But the equivalent of almost 200 full-time jobs will still go at the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), which expects to amass a NZ$33 million (£16 million) deficit in 2023 and faces mounting debts in the years ahead.

Vice-chancellor Nic Smith said the “difficult trade-offs” would save the institution around NZ$22 million. “It has been a thankless task that no one wanted to do,” he said. But he added that staff’s “passionate advocacy” and “thoughtful, solution-oriented commentary” had helped to produce ways of sparing programmes in theatre, music, modern languages and design technology.

Professor Smith said that around NZ$7 million was being spent to retain jobs originally slated for “disestablishment”. This had been made possible by philanthropic donations, the extra government funding announced in June and the settlement of an insurance claim related to a 2016 earthquake.

Plans to cut courses in teaching, English language, history, midwifery, earth sciences, physics and workplace health were also averted after 75 staff accepted voluntary redundancy.

Overall, a proposed net reduction of 229 jobs has been reduced to 194. The resuscitated programmes have been put on “a managed pathway to financial sustainability”, with each set goals “and a timeframe to achieve them”, after consultation on the proposals attracted more than 2,000 submissions.

Professor Smith said that, although the process had “challenged us, it has also galvanised us”. The “high level of engagement and consultation with staff” had yielded “a number of really constructive variations to what was originally proposed”.

The Tertiary Education Union’s VUW branch said staff and student activism had forestalled some of the “most foolish, recklessly destructive” proposals. “We will be forever grateful to…unwavering student solidarity fighting these cuts. We’ve seen the real community of learners the university should be. Students have articulated why education matters,” it said.

Branch president Dougal McNeill said cuts had been “chosen”, not forced. “I’m glad we fought, but it’s a defeat for us,” he tweeted. “Students were the leaders articulating publicly the value of arts, languages, theatre [and] music. There’s a contrast to notice here with others in more powerful and secure places.”

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