"Like any organisation, if you sit and do nothing, 15 years later someone will eat your lunch" - that was the comment by University of Waikato vice-chancellor Professor Neil Quigley about proposals to cut up to 17 jobs from the university's arts and social sciences faculty. In March, acting Dean, Professor Allison Kirkman forwarded proposals to restructure the faculty saying that the university was no longer willing to cross-subsidise smaller subject areas. The proposals, which are open to staff consultation and due to be reported back by late April, have raised concerns in the wider community, particularly about the proposals to cut jobs in the music department.
There is no question that government funding priorities have not helped ... We get twice the rate for engineering students as we do for social science students.The proposals follow job losses in the university's School of Education last year. But Quigley explained the University works in a highly-competitive tertiary education sector and faces a series of issues which have to be addressed. While the university has posted mild financial surpluses in recent years it is sitting on tens of millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance on buildings which have not had any significant upgrade since the 1970s. Then there are the effects of government policy decisions in funding tertiary education. The Education Ministry's Tertiary Education Strategy 2014 - 2019 sets out its priorities. In descending order - Delivering skills for industry, Getting at-risk young people into a career, Boosting achievement of Maori and Pasifica, Improving adult literacy and Strengthening research-based institutions. "There is no question that government funding priorities have not helped. We have had additional funding for engineering and IT graduate courses. That's not wrong, its just that there have not been funding increases in other courses. The government has different funding categories. We get twice the rate for engineering students as we do for social science students. We can cross-subsidise courses to a point, but there has not been even nominal funding increases for social sciences for seven years, and every year staff salaries go up," Quigley said. Then there is the great competition for students. Waikato has about 11,000 full-time-equivalent students, roughly a quarter the size of Auckland University only 120kms up the road and Waikato is not permitted to significantly increase its roll - or its income. "We are positively not allowed to take on more students as it drives government's costs up in student loans and allowances. The government doesn't want us to increase our roll even if we could find the students." Income from international full-fee-paying students is not what it once was as Asian economies develop and build their own universities. What was coming was predicted in an Education Ministry forecast, which warned tertiary institutions of a drop of nearly 10,000 degree and postgraduate enrolments among domestic students at least until 2019. The forecast was based on two major factors - fewer school leavers and a strong job market which meant more young people going directly into work rather than into study. Most major tertiary institutions around NZ have made adjustments to their staffing levels and moved to cut less popular courses. In 2014 Auckland University cut more than 100 jobs, mostly in administration. In October Victoria University dropped five full-time and two part-time positions from its Languages and Culture faculty. In December Otago shed 16 jobs in its arts faculty and in March this year a further 17 jobs in its Physical Education faculties. This was obvious to Waikato early last year when Quigley said the forecast fall was significant and would require big changes for universities. The good news, Quigley said, was that proposed job losses in Arts and Social Sciences, is likely the last large cut, at least for this year. His preference is to get Waikato's faculties to make small adjustments on a more regular basis. "In five years time, one thing I hope any changes we make in social sciences will have, is to allow us to invest in areas and develop courses that will help us attract more students."