The Guardian 11 May, 2005

Nelson agenda at Newcastle University

The announcement of 450 forced redundancies at the University of Newcastle has sparked a "vow to fight" from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

Citing a supposed budget shortfall as the cause, Vice Chancellor Professor Nick Saunders made the announcement at staff meetings last Wednesday afternoon, without even advising the University Council. The Vice Chancellor (VC) has since refused to speak to the unions and is determined to push ahead with the sackings by July.

CPSU Branch President, Trevor White said: "The magnitude of the proposed job losses, and the proposed time frame, are devastating and extreme. If this is allowed to happen it will have a crippling effect on the University of Newcastle and threatens its ability to continue as a competitive and viable educational institution."

"What the federal government should be doing is ensuring that the second largest employer in the Hunter region and one of Australia's leading universities is not decimated by the loss of 450 jobs", said Mr White.

The federal government recently removed the University of Newcastle's status as a regional university a change that cost the institution over $3.5 million a year. Further, the government has failed to allocate new HECS places for the Callaghan campus, exacerbating the financial problems and limiting access to local university places for Hunter residents.

"The VC is trying to paint the need for massive staff cuts as a foregone conclusion, rather than attempting to address the real problem forcing the Howard government to appropriately fund universities", said the NTEU State Secretary, Ms Chris Game. "This is a 'scorched earth' style of management that will result in 1 in 5 staff sacked and dozens of courses axed.

"This won't be allowed to happen. The current enterprise agreement declares that redundancy should be used only as an absolute last resort.

"This government is hell-bent on turning universities into corporate businesses and making them fund their activities by raising fees and getting into business deals rather than concentrating on teaching the nation's future generations and undertaking research", Ms Game said.

What is happening at Newcastle is just the thin edge of the wedge of the industrial changes for the sector announced last Friday by Education Minister Brendan Nelson.

Greens education spokesperson, Senator Kerry Nettle, has lodged questions on notice for Nelson to ascertain what role his department is playing in the planned staff and course cuts at Newcastle University.

"The cuts planned at Newcastle University would allow the Vice Chancellor to take a lead in forwarding this agenda by sacking staff current employment agreements and employing replacements on individual contracts.

"Brendan Nelson's fingerprints are all over it."

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