National's science spokeswoman Parmjeet Parmar says she's worried at the scale of proposed cuts to Massey University science academic staff - and has called for the Government to step in.
But Education Minister Chris Hipkins today told the Herald that, as universities are autonomous, it would be inappropriate for him to intervene.
Eight months after a shake-up of Massey's College of Sciences was floated to staff, revised proposals were released yesterday.
The two options tabled would retain nearly all of Massey's science qualifications - albeit with many changes - but more than a third of academic science staff could be lost.
One senior Massey scientist told the Herald the proposed cuts were equivalent to about 100 staff - and would spell the biggest loss of science academics in New Zealand's history.
The college's pro-Vice Chancellor, Professor Ray Geor, told staff that costs had become greater than income, and the situation would "continue to deteriorate unless we take action".
In February, Massey signalled a need to cut spending by $18.1m a year - including slashing staff costs in the College of Sciences by $11.7m - and Geor said this week that the position had worsened since then.
The proposals have been met with shock and worry by Massey scientists - one senior academic angrily called for the university's vice-chancellor to resign - and have also drawn concern among the wider science community.
"New Zealand needs to consider whether science and scientists should be just another tool following the shifting sands of policies and economics, or should be a beacon leading us through pandemics and climate change to visions and economies of the future," said Professor Troy Baisden, president of the NZ Association of Scientists.
"Now is the time for a serious review of the future expectations for research, science and technology in New Zealand before Massey embarks on their regrettable plans."
National's Parmjeet Parmar said she was "staggered" at what she saw as inaction by Hipkins and her Labour opposite, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Megan Woods,
"while the scientific community has been calling for help".
"Ministers in charge have not shown any interest in doing anything."
She said the proposals could have a "huge negative impact" on science - and argued it was time for ministers to intervene.
But Hipkins said issues to do with staffing were decisions for the university - and a restructure for any reason was "clearly" the vice-chancellor's own business to manage.
"As the Minister of Education, it would be inappropriate for me to be involved in operational decisions at universities," Hipkins said.
"I would, however, note that the cost-cutting measures proposed are significant. I would expect the university to consult with staff and students before proceeding with any restructures."
In a Parliamentary report on a petition submitted by prominent Massey mathematician Distinguished Professor Gaven Martin, Hipkins was quoted as saying the threshold was "very, very high".
He would only be able to step in on the operational or management decisions of a tertiary education institute if its decisions were "inconsistent with the nature of its services, the efficient use of national resources, the national interest, or the demands of accountability", it said.
Affected Massey staff have been given until the end of the month to respond to the latest proposals.
A Massey spokesperson told RNZ the university was committed to working and engaging with staff, students and stakeholders to hear their feedback.
"While this process is under way, and no decisions have yet been made, we cannot make any comment about potential outcomes."