Massey University scientists are reeling from fresh bombshell proposals they say would spell the biggest cut to science academics in New Zealand's history.
Massey science faculty staff were this morning sent a revised discussion document setting out cost-cutting measures, with two tabled options.
Both would slash science academic staff by more than a third and bring a big shake-up to science subjects currently offered.
A senior Massey scientist has told the Herald that loss could be equivalent to about 100 scientists across most disciplines.
They described the proposals as "brutal" and just as devastating as earlier proposals that dropped in February on the first day of semester, and which suggested that Massey cease teaching a science degree from its Albany campus.
At that time, Massey cited costs that had risen more than its revenue, and a need to cut spending by $18.1m a year - including slashing staff costs in the College of Sciences by $11.7m, or 15 per cent.
A major restructure was proposed to come amid a roll-out of an online-focused strategy called Digital Plus that would see many subjects taught face-to-face only at designated "anchor" campuses.
In latest discussion document, released soon after Massey set out its general proposal for its College of Sciences in a "road map", the college's pro-vice chancellor, Professor Ray Geor, said the position had worsened from that which he outlined in February.
"Our costs, inclusive of financial contribution to the operations of the university, are greater than our income and this situation will continue to deteriorate unless we take action."
Both options put forward today would retain all of Massey's 53 current science qualifications except for its Bachelor of Science (BSc) with Honours, which would be scrapped.
But they both involved dropping some specialisations, and merging others into reshaped disciplines, including folding biochemistry into a wider biological sciences subject.
Changes under the first option was calculated to bring an improvement in equivalent full-time students (EFTS) per offering by 32 per cent, while supporting about 66 per cent of academic full-time staff.
But it also involved stopping Massey's BSc computer science major without offering a replacement, and would also push the already-high workload for academic staff up by 7 per cent.
The second option would retain the computer science major, support about 68 per cent of full-time academic staff, slightly reduce workload and bring a 39 per cent reduction in the number of offerings, but lift the EFTS rate per offering by just under half.
"In each option, we predict an improvement in our financial sustainability, despite some loss of enrolment revenue," Geor wrote in the document.
"Each attempts to balance changes in the curriculum with effects on staff workload, but do so to differing extents.
"Both options will require alignment of our staffing, to best support our teaching and research missions within our financial means."
He acknowledged the proposals would spell a "challenging time for all of us" and asked for staff to give feedback by the end of the month.
One Massey academic told the Herald the cuts would effectively "kill science" at the university.
They also contended Massey's assertion that science at the university wasn't covering its costs, noting the document failed to mention the college contributed about $30m to $35m each year for facilities like libraries, along with administration salaries.
"The [College of Sciences] is the largest college and contributes more money than most of the other colleges - but as a percentage of income, it is less than most, but not all others - it returns 20 to 25 per cent of its income," they said.
"We know that science has been underfunded by successive governments and that it is expensive to do – nonetheless it is important for New Zealand."
The academic expected the flow-on effects of the new proposals would spell a 30 to 40 per cent drop in capacity to take on PhD students - and a drop in research income and in international rankings.
"I am also certain that there will be a drop in enrolments. The College of Sciences may even end up returning the same percentage as it does now but just with a much smaller income and the mass destruction of talented careers."
The academic also hit out at the fact that, just weeks before releasing the proposals, Massey circulated new communications policies that staff say prevent them from openly criticising university management.
Another senior faculty member lamented that some new majors that staff had put much time and energy into could now be lost.
"It's a sad day to be a Massey academic."
Tertiary Education Union (TEU) organiser Heather Warren planned to hold meetings with members over coming days to form a response to the proposals.
"No job cuts are good and the TEU does not support loss of employment for our members."
Warren said the discussion document showed that funding models universities operated were "clearly flawed" - and argued that even low-enrolled papers were still important to society.
New Zealand Association of Scientists president Professor Troy Baisden said cuts of scale proposed threatened the country's future - both in innovating and protecting its economy and environment.
"If limited only to Massey, these cuts are a spectacular own goal, and a tragedy for staff - it may be a gift to competing institutions, at a perfect time for students to enrol elsewhere next year."
But there were deeper reasons to worry, he said, not least of which was a "lack of support" for the university sector's morale, and stability.
"If we as a nation gut our science capability and reputation at a time when top talent wants to live and work in New Zealand, we'll risk being left behind intellectually and economically for decades to come."
Massey declined to comment.