A radical Massey University shake-up that could drive top researchers out of New Zealand has drawn criticism from a national scientists' association.
On Friday, the Herald revealed the university was poised to announce a major restructure, affecting staff across its three campuses in Auckland, Palmerston North and Wellington.
Academics at Massey's Albany campus feared the shake-up - coming with the roll-out of a new online-focused programme - could see many science positions lost from Auckland.
Under the Digital Plus strategy, face-to-face teaching would happen at "anchor" campuses for those subjects - and there were fears among dozens of academics, research officers and PhD students in Auckland that science at Massey would effectively be based from Manawatu.
Several senior scientists have told the Herald they felt "betrayed" and "disgusted" over a lack of consultation - pointing out that no proposals had been put to the university's Academic Board - although Massey has told staff that no decisions have been made, and promised a thorough process.
Nevertheless, the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) also aired strong concerns over the moves this morning.
"What is most concerning is that announcements appear to come ahead of internal consultation, including the traditional role of academic boards in allowing leaders in research and teaching to manage the impact of proposed changes," NZAS president Professor Troy Baisden said.
"As a result, the 'Digital Plus' strategy may well be poorly considered. The logical implications appear to be either a big modern Auckland campus devoid of critical mass in STEM disciplines, or maintaining excellence in some science disciplines when supporting subjects such as maths and statistics are deprecated to digital learning only."
More broadly, Baisden said, universities offering research-informed teaching were complex systems, "and blinkered efforts to improve on a single metric, such cost per student, often have costly unintended consequences".
"Public information shows Massey's finances are tight yet stable, so scientists appear to be right to question risky changes that will distract from excellence in teaching and research, or sink morale."
The association was concerned that, if proposals gutted working teams or caused top flight academics to leave, those left behind would be far less effective in delivering top research and shepherding students toward successful careers.
On Friday, the Herald asked Massey the science college would be entirely based out of Palmerston North; whether there would be job losses, and if so, how many; whether it would negatively impact its ability to attract students; and what the process would be from here.
A spokesperson said the university wasn't able to yet comment on what approaches would be taken, and referred the Herald to a January media release about Digital Plus, in which Provost Giselle Byrnes described the strategy as "an ambitious step-change".
In an FAQ given to staff, and obtained by the Herald, although Digital Plus wasn't "an announcement of redundancies", it was likely to affect "some" academic staff whose subjects were currently spread across more than one campus.
"Any changes affecting staff will go through a proper proposal for change consultation process. Until that process takes place, the university will not be in a position to know if, or how many, jobs will be lost as some staff may move into different roles," it stated.
Staff were also told it wasn't "a done deal" and that no decisions had been made, and were promised "full and thorough consultation processes".
But so far, many at Massey weren't impressed - one telling the Herald that Digital Plus had been "bulldozed" through by the university's senior leadership team.
"We already see staff leaving or looking for other jobs. Many world-leaders in their field are disgusted and look for other opportunities overseas."
The pro-vice chancellor of Massey's College of Sciences, Professor Ray Geor, was scheduled to visit Albany on Wednesday - but it was understood a discussion document outlining the restructure may be sent out to staff as early as tomorrow.