By Jimmy Ellingham of RNZ
Massey University is forecasting a loss of more than $50 million this year, but is not saying how it sank into a financial hole.
Last week, the university announced proposals to slash college of science jobs and courses, including no longer teaching engineering and no longer offering some subjects at its campus in Albany, Auckland.
The Tertiary Education Union says more than 100 jobs could go and has labelled the proposals short sighted and ill-timed.
The proposals would see specialised staff lose their jobs, including world leaders in their fields.
Students said announcing the proposed cuts just before exams had caused extra stress and uncertainty.
The latest forecast operating deficit for 2023, of $53.7m, is contained in a “proposal for change” document circulating to affected parties and obtained by RNZ.
The figure is much higher than the $8.8m deficit the university recorded in 2022.
RNZ asked Massey what caused the massive projected loss this year, but a spokesperson offered no comment.
Instead, RNZ was referred to the university’s latest published accounts, to the end of July, which showed a year-to-date operating deficit of $33m. This was $28m worse than expected.
The accounting notes said this was mainly due to lower than expected student fees, lower government grants, higher than expected staff-related expenses, and higher other costs.
Expenses were $18.6m over budget “mainly due to delayed progress in achieving savings targets in staff-related expenses and other expenditure”.
The loss was partially offset by high research income and “consultancy/conference/trading”.
In its proposal for change, Massey said the college of sciences was a significant contributor to the 2023 shortfall.
Pro vice-chancellor of sciences Ray Geor said he was delegated responsibility in early July from university vice-chancellor Jan Thomas to ensure the college of sciences was “operating in accordance with the university’s financial expectations”.
That month staff were asked if they were interested in enhanced voluntary redundancy packages.
The equivalent of about 20 full-time technical and academic staff took voluntary redundancy, reducing salary costs by about $2m.
He said a mix of permanent and short-term increases of Tertiary Education Commission funding would add $6m in revenue to Massey in 2024 and 2025, and the college of sciences’ share was about $1.5m each year.
Despite that, the college was headed for a $12m deficit in 2024, Geor said.
“This is certainly the most challenging financial situation that this college has ever faced, and it is now imperative that changes are made to ensure the college (and university) are in a financially sustainable position.
“I am committed to being transparent and open with the [college] in respect to the challenges we are facing and to ensure that our college is fit for the future to support our core mission of teaching, learning and research,” he said.
Within the college, the schools of natural sciences, and food and advance technology were forecast to be the furthest from meeting their expected margins, Geor said.
The school of veterinary science, while not meeting its expected margin, was expected to earn more money in coming years.
Geor said there was a need to reduce the college’s “physical footprint”, due to infrastructure costs going up more than the rate of inflation. This included “useable floor area” costs, which were effectively rented from the university for space.
Floor space costs were high in the schools of natural sciences and food and advance technology, because “extensive space” was used in the Manawatū and Auckland campuses.
A state of the art facility recently opened in Auckland. It reportedly cost $120m and includes specialised facilities that would no longer be used if the proposal to only offer courses in Palmerston North goes ahead.
Consultation on the proposals is open and the university is expected to make decisions next month.