Oppose Cuts, Defend Our Staff

This article was written by the Tertiary Education Union and Public Service Association’s “Save Our Services, Save Our Staff” Action Committee and represents their opinion on the Student Services Review.


Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne recently announced plans to cut 182 full-time equivalent jobs from some of the university’s most vital support services. This could have a huge impact on the quality of service required to deliver high quality teaching and learning, research and student support. Stand together with staff on 23 August to show your appreciation for the contribution support staff make to the success of our university.


Less student facing services, not more

Far from creating more ‘student facing services’, the Vice- Chancellor is proposing major cuts to administrative and service support for both students and academic staff. There will actually be far fewer ‘faces’ for students and academics to approach for help. Students will be expected to increasingly self-administer using online systems, systems that tend to generate problems that require administrative and support staff to sort out.

Taking into account that many general staff work part-time, it is likely that there will be well over 182 people no longer employed by the university to help students and support academic staff. The large reduction in staff numbers at the Central Library provides an example of what these down-sized services will look like. Whereas you once walked into the Library and were greeted by a circulation desk with several experienced and knowledgeable librarians who could help you with all sorts of things, now you have to search harder for the assistance that you need. You simply cannot cut this many staff without substantially cutting administrative and support services.

A more centralised ‘shared services’ model has been introduced at the universities of Melbourne and Auckland, and it has reduced the adequacy of service provision for students and increased the amount of administrative work that has to be completed by academics, potentially impacting the amount of time they spend with students.


More effective ways to use tuition fees and public funds?

The cuts proposed by the Vice Chancellor and the reasons given for them ignores that the work done by general staff already supports teaching and research - often in unseen, but important ways. The current university hierarchy seems more interested in capital investment and corporate branding than in defending and preserving the teaching and research capacities of the university, as the recent staff cuts to Humanities show.

In recent years the Administration has, or is proposing to, spend substantial sums of money getting new pavers laid (costing over $8 million) as well as other grounds work, changing the university logo, introducing CCTV cameras, sponsoring the Highlanders, and so forth. During the same period, the university’s top personnel continue to be paid executive salaries. 

According to the university’s 2016 Annual Report (p.68), the university’s Operating Surplus in 2016 was $27.8 million. Looking at this and the university’s accounts generally, the Administration’s financial justification for such large staff cuts is very weak.


Enhancing the student experience?

The university’s general staff are dedicated, hardworking and caring people who have devoted their working lives to supporting students and academic staff. This protest provides students and academics with an opportunity to express appreciation for their support staff.

With respect to the staff experience at Otago, morale is extremely low and stress levels are high. Among the many concerns that have been raised, staff are particularly concerned that the Support Services Review is being used to intensify the authoritarian top-down line management model of governance of the university. Staff have been reminded that the university is not a democracy and many are frightened to speak freely about their concerns.

More generally, the implementation of neoliberal policies, both by the government and by university administrations, has involved a series of interconnected attacks on both students and staff. It is time for staff and students to unite and fight back. We are many, they are few.


Protest to Save our Services, Save Our Staff, Defend Our Students
Assemble on Union Lawn for rally and march.
12.15pm Wednesday 23 August

This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2017.
Posted 10:47am Sunday 13th August 2017 by Save Our Services, Save Our Staff.