Cash-strapped Massey University has floated a revamped restructure spelling the loss of more than 70 science jobs – and branded by a union as “devastating”.
Nearly two months after the university proposed a major shake-up of its College of Sciences to claw back a multi-million-dollar deficit, Massey this afternoon sent out a tweaked plan for consultation, with a final decision due next month.
It involved consolidating teaching and research activity across food technology, ecology, zoology, molecular cell biology and chemistry to Massey’s Manawatū campus, rather than jointly with its Albany campus in Auckland.
A host of qualifications - such as PhDs in food tech and bachelors degrees in molecular cell biology, ecology and conservation – would no longer be taught from Albany, in line with Massey’s online-focused “Digital Plus” strategy.
Other areas, such as all teaching and research in engineering, would be discontinued entirely, while some units earlier earmarked for closure - such as Massey Genome Services and the Manawatu Microscopy and Imaging Centre - would now stay operating.
Massey’s “preliminary” decision also proposed the formation of a new school within the college, comprising staff from both its schools of natural sciences and food and advanced technology.
The new restructure came with the loss of 66.6 fulltime equivalent roles, or 71 positions - fewer than the 107 originally targeted - across disciplines ranging from food tech to engineering and zoology.
In setting out the proposed changes, the college’s pro-vice chancellor Professor Ray Geor said he hadn’t been able to “identify a path forward that does not result in changes to our college’s staffing levels.
“I do not believe we can maintain our existing activities through cutting our other operational costs.”
Ecologist Professor Dianne Brunton, who now expected to receive her final notice 10 days before Christmas, said her colleagues had been left angry and upset at the latest moves.
“This is going to shrink the sciences dramatically at Massey and it’s really going to wreck its reputation as well.”
Brunton also feared the changes would be highly disruptive to students, especially for those losing their supervisors part-way through their studies.
Tertiary Education Union organiser Ben Schmidt pointed to the new government’s stated focus on science, technology and international education.
“In the context of that, now is not the time for Massey to be seeking to make these devastating science cuts, when these are areas of crucial importance for our country and for our economy.”
The decision came days after the union sent Geor an alternative plan it argued would support financial stability without requiring further job cuts.
However, Geor said in the document the union’s proposal had underestimated staffing costs and didn’t address the university’s strategic objectives with Digital Plus.
Massey faced a potential operating deficit of more than $50m for 2023 – much higher than the $8.8m deficit it posted in 2022.
The restructure is the latest in rolling rounds of cuts across New Zealand universities, in which hundreds of jobs have been eliminated through voluntary or forced redundancies.
While the Covid-19 pandemic greatly worsened universities’ financial woes, Universities New Zealand has pointed to a steady decline in real-term government funding over the past decade.
Jamie Morton is a specialist in science and environmental reporting. He joined the Herald in 2011 and writes about everything from conservation and climate change to natural hazards and new technology.