Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Ag research will feel latest Massey cuts, union says

Neal Wallace
College of Sciences in the firing line – including Manawatū’s only engineering course.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Massey University is proposing to make more than 70 staff members redundant, a move that the Tertiary Education Union says will impact student training and research for the primary sector.

The university on Monday released its preliminary restructuring decision, which will affect  the College of Sciences, among others. Tertiary Education Union (TEU) organiser Ben Schmidt described this as short sighted and unnecessary, and said members have vowed to fight the decision.

Radio NZ reports that Massey’s workforce has already shrunk by up to 100 through voluntary redundancies across its three campuses – Palmerston North, Albany and Wellington. It notes that enrolments fell by 2000 full-time equivalent (FTE) last year and fell further this year.

The cuts are to be made in the natural sciences and food and advanced technology fields, courses which will continue to be offered by Massey, but it will mean the axing of the engineering course in Palmerston North, the only such course in Manawatū.

The university announced the package this week to address a projected $50 million operating deficit for this financial year.

Professor Ray Geor, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Sciences said the preliminary decision retains some aspects of the original proposal that will mean the cessation of some qualifications and specialisations delivered by the college and others consolidated on the Manawatū campus.

Restructuring of the College of Sciences will affect food technology alongside engineering and natural sciences.

The university’s preliminary decision proposes to maintain food technology and other natural sciences qualifications and consolidate these to the Manawatū Campus, alongside its agriculture, horticulture, veterinary science and animal science qualifications.  

In a change from the original proposal, Massey will maintain its Post Harvest Technology expertise, as well as the Bachelor of Science specialisation of Plant Science and associated postgraduate qualifications including Plant Breeding.

If implemented, Schmidt said, the cuts would end the provision of all courses in natural sciences and food technology in Auckland, leaving vacant a $150m state-of-the-art science and technology building he said fully opened only a few months ago.

“Food technology, engineering and natural sciences are essential for growing New Zealand’s economy and to be an attractive and sustainable tourist destination.

“Access to studying engineering in Manawatū is also important for regional economic growth and capacity building.”

Schmidt said the new government has said it wants to build an economy that enables wealth creation, adds value to exports and invests in IT to promote economic growth and employment. Fundamental to this is high educational achievement leading to high value employment opportunities.

“Slashing jobs and courses in sciences and technology is deeply shortsighted and contradictory to these goals,” Schmidt said.

Geor said a second round of consultation will now begin.

“The change proposal process was extended to allow time to fully consider the feedback received from staff, students and stakeholders, and the alternative proposal received from the TEU last week.”

Like other tertiary providers, Massey faces difficult financial conditions, needing to reduce costs and generate income, he said.

“The need to reduce costs and generate income to ensure financial sustainability remains urgent for this year and for the near term.”

He said changes to the academic profile of the college will be such that it supports “world-class teaching and research in a breadth of subjects and disciplines” while also addressing challenging financial circumstances.

“Once a final decision is reached, we will be able to provide clear details to staff and students on the implementation of any changes.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article did not explicitly state that natural sciences and food and advanced technology courses will still be offered at Massey University. This has been updated.

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