Victoria University vice-chancellor Grant Guilford told staff during his Christmas speech that the university would have to make hard decisions early next year. (File photo)
Staff at Victoria University say they feel ‘’guilt-tripped’’ into giving up their jobs following a Christmas speech from the vice-chancellor.
At the staff Christmas party on Tuesday, Grant Guilford said that before February 2021 the university needed access to international students, a significant increase in domestic enrolments, and a strong uptake in the staff voluntary redundancy scheme.
“At present, none of those three things are looking particularly promising.” he told the assembled staff.
“Very unfortunately, therefore, it’s looking increasingly likely that to fulfil our commitments to kaitiakitanga and intergenerational responsibility, we will be facing hard decisions early next year.”
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He then wished staff a well-deserved break, and told them to enjoy it to the “absolute maximum possible”.
Tertiary Education Union branch co-president Dougal McNeill said staff felt guilt-tripped into leaving their jobs, just before Christmas, despite the voluntary redundancy scheme being open until January 27.
The message was consistent with what they had been hearing over the year, but it was inappropriate to bring it up at the Christmas party.
It demonstrated the disconnect between staff and senior leadership.
Staff felt there had been questionable spending decisions made, such as the $16.7 million Student Success Project, $1.6m of which had been written off, with an external audit from PricewaterhouseCoopers identifying another $3.4m at risk. Another $6m has been budgeted for the project over the next two years.
McNeill questioned who would throw away their job when staff were unsure senior leadership would care for the university.
But Guilford told Stuff honesty and transparency was important, and he did not want to sugarcoat the situation.
The university needed a $50m turnaround to become sustainable by 2022.
At this stage 20 staff had put their hands up to be considered for voluntary redundancy, although Guilford said it was still early days. Without any other cost-cutting measures in place, the university would have to cut around 280 fulltime equivalent staff.
The university has seen a 2-3 per cent increase in domestic enrolments for trimester 1, and was hopeful that would increase to 10 per cent when 2021 rolled around.
The university council would meet in February to discuss the financial situation, including whether compulsory measures needed to be taken, such as redundancies.
Cutting courses was also on the table, although Guilford said it was standard for the university to review what was on offer each year. Its policy was to retain as many courses as possible, but this needed to be offset against staff workload.
Guilford’s speech also took the time to acknowledge the university’s most successful year in terms of Marsden Fund grants (grants for investigator-initiated research), the work its researchers were doing in the country’s Covid-19 vaccine research and evaluation, and its Times Higher Education ranking in the top 40 universities in the world for social impact and commitment.