COVID-19 strikes again with more cuts
Sydney's University of New South Wales will cut hundreds of full-time staff, reduce its management and merge three of its faculties as it grapples with the ongoing effects of COVID-19 and a $370 million budget shortfall.
Vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs said a voluntary redundancy program for academic and non-academic staff will begin immediately, laying off 493 members and cutting its management by 25 per cent.
"If necessary", it will become compulsory to make sure the reductions are in place by October, with the job losses representing a staff reduction of 7.5 per cent.
"Some of the steps are unpalatable and painful, particularly when they have an impact on jobs and our people," Professor Jacobs said, explaining they'd been made only after "all other options had been exhausted".
Major job losses had been avoided until now, he said, due to a cut in discretionary spending, casual hours and senior management taking a 20 per cent pay cut earlier in the year.
UNSW is also employing 155 fewer casual staff than it was before the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia.
The full-time job losses are needed to mitigate a remaining budget shortfall of $75 million in 2021.
"Of the financial shortfall anticipated there will unfortunately still be a gap - after extensively reducing our non-people cost expenditure and utilising our cash reserves - that will require us to reduce our workforce.
"That is a step I deeply regret, but cannot avoid."
Prof Jacobs said the redundancies would not target particular parts of the university, saying, "I doubt that any part will be spared".
UNSW's eight respective faculties and divisions will also be combined and reduced to six, with two deans and two vice-presidents to be removed from the senior leadership team.
"I think people will be really reeling," UNSW National Tertiary Education Union branch president Sarah Gregson said, adding it's a "shocking number" of job losses.
"Nobody denies there's a crisis, but the detail of what's necessary is difficult. We're obviously going to challenge every job loss we can."
Union assistant secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union NSW, Troy Wright, called for a "fundamental rethink of the higher education system".
"We need JobKeeper in our universities now," Mr Wright said, adding the higher education sector is in a "perilous situation".
Prof Jacobs said a "very high" demand from domestic students and a larger than expected number of international students, opting to study online from home, had saved UNSW from a "catastrophe".
At one stage, he said, his finance team had warned him UNSW would be down by $600 million in 2020 alone.
"In March, I thought we were going to lose more than 2000 jobs … we will now still have 500 staff more than we had in 2016," he told The Australian.
"We have been surprised at the big domestic demand and the number of international students who are sticking with us and studying online, and it gets us to this number.
"That doesn't reduce the pain and anguish job losses create. We deeply regret it and the voluntary redundancy process will be as thoughtful and sensitive as possible."
Originally published as COVID-19 strikes again with more cuts