The possible redundancies of 100 Massey University academic staff will impact research and the supply of skilled graduates to the primary sector, leaders warn.
The university is proposing to restructure natural sciences, food technology and advanced technology faculties to help address a $50 million deficit caused by falling enrollments and rising costs.
Tertiary Education Union organiser Ben Schmidt said the proposed job losses equate to 60% of academic staff in natural science, food and advanced technology departments, involving every academic level from tutors to professors.
Qualifications under review include engineering, supply chain management, logistics and quality systems and plant science.
The School of Agriculture and Environment is not included in the restructuring.
Jon Hickford, the past president of the New Zealand Institute of Agriculture and Horticulture Science, called the proposal “shortsighted”.
Plant science not only underpins NZ’s biological economy, it has relevance to conservation, domestic gardening and forestry, he said.
“This strikes me as absolutely perverse.”
From a purely economic perspective, Hickford said science students attract up to four times the government funding per student as economic or art students, which reflects the importance the government places on the discipline.
“Somewhere in the wash Massey has decided science is not valuable to them at the same time it continues to fund arts’ students.”
Thomas Chin, the manager of NZ Grain and Seed Trade Association, is concerned at the impact of the job losses on plant science and research, but also to provide qualified graduates to work in the grain and seed sector.
“The loss of any specialist capability and teaching expertise will be a major negative for the wider primary sector,” he said.
“The loss of that course or teaching capacity will have an impact on students and ultimately it will impact the workforce for the sector.”
Schmidt acknowledged the university is facing a challenging time but said the areas under review are recognised as leaders that can attract more students and engage with industry and the government.
He said the cuts will impact the primary sector with the reduction in plant sciences and the closure of genomic services.
“To address the financial challenges, axing over half the staff in these departments is not the way to go.”
He wants the university to engage with the new government about funding arrangements.
Professor Ray Geor, Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Sciences said the Proposal for Change is needed to address financial issues.
“Like others in the tertiary sector, the university has recently been signalling difficult financial conditions and the need to reduce costs and generate income to ensure its financial sustainability.”
It affects courses at both the university’s Auckland and its Manawatū campuses. A final decision, once consultation is completed, is due next month.
Information provided by the university reveals food technology courses under review include process engineering and product technology with postgraduate level qualifications at the Auckland campus also proposed to end.
Within the College of Sciences, all postgraduate qualifications relating to plant science are tagged for closure, while qualifications in biological science, conservation biology and zoology are proposed to be consolidated at the Manawatū campus.
Bachelor, master’s and postgraduate courses in engineering, supply chain management, logistics and quality systems course will cease.
Geor said the proposed changes will ensure the university’s core disciplines remain part of its academic portfolio, albeit with some campus consolidation.
This story has been updated to confirm that qualifications in biological science, conservation biology and zoology are proposed to be consolidated at the Manawatū campus.