Fed Uni union calls for top to quit

Federation University's Berwick campus will be among the campuses across the state to be impacted by proposed job cuts. Picture: ON FILE

By Matthew Sims

Federation University National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members have called for Vice-Chancellor Duncan Bentley and chief financial officer John Blair to resign following the announcement of about 200 job cuts, with Federation University NTEU branch president Dr Mathew Abbott calling the decision “irrational”.

At a mass meeting, a majority of union members passed a motion to support their resignations and committing Federation University NTEU members to oppose the job cuts using any available means, including mass rallies, an ongoing media campaign and pursuing legal measures to enforce Federation University’s Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).

The branch also passed a motion to note that the job cuts announcement was “inconsistent” with the university’s obligations in regards to Indigenous employment, as outlined in the EBA.

According to clause 10.4.6 of the 2023-2026 EBA, the university agreed to increase the number of Indigenous employees to at least 37 full-time equivalent employees across all areas of the university by the nominal expiry date of the agreement.

Announced on Friday 22 March, the Future Fed program will lead to 12 per cent of ongoing staff being made redundant, with the university inviting staff to express interest in a voluntary redundancy process.

According to the university, the number of international students was down 49 per cent compared to 2019, leading to a $79.1 million decline in revenue, due to unexpected changes to international student visa arrangements.

The program announcement followed on from a previous voluntary redundancy offer made in November 2021 towards replacing its six schools with three academic schools, as well as staff striking last May demanding better pay and conditions, after the institution reported an operating deficit of $41.2 million in its 2022 annual report.

Federation University NTEU branch president Dr Mathew Abbott said the mass meeting was the largest he had witnessed, with more than 250 people in attendance.

“FedUni’s NTEU members have successfully stopped poor decision-making by senior managers at our university before, as we did when management backed down on its disastrous plan to cut the Bachelor of Arts program in its entirety,” he said.

“Members are organising again to stop these cuts and we know students and community members are behind us.”

Dr Abbott said the branch members were concerned if the cuts would further exacerbate the university’s financial issues, not improve them.

“Federation University attracts diverse students, often from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds, and cutting courses and removing staff who work hard to support our students will not solve our revenue problems but stands to make them worse instead,” he said.

“Our university simply cannot sustain cuts of this scale.

“The announcement appears especially irrational considering the Federal Government’s Universities Accord contains several commitments to bolster funding to regional institutions and universities with a lower SES student cohort.”

Dr Abbott said calling for the resignation of Mr Bentley and Mr Blair was an attempt to make the executive team accountable for mismanaging the university towards its current situation.

“I think the thinking was staff were sick of bearing the brunch of serious mismanagement,” he said.

Mr Bentley said the environment for Australian universities had become more challenging since Covid.

“As a public university, we have an obligation to ensure we operate sustainably and are generating sufficient surpluses to reinvest in students, teaching and research,” he said.

“Our transformation requires difficult decisions – we acknowledge the impact of these on our people and communities and we will be doing everything we can to support them through the process.

“The decisions are necessary for us to strengthen investment in the strategies that set Federation apart and underpin our long-term growth.”

Speaking on a video interview with Studiosity chief academic officer Professor Judyth Sachs, Mr Bentley said the university was facing a “very lean couple of years” to rebuild back to a surplus.

“We also need to realise the world has changed and we must respond to that change within what we are doing,” he said.

“We’ve got to fly the plane and do the repairs at the same time.”

According to the 2021-22 annual report, one unnamed member of the university council received a remuneration package of $860,000 to $869,999 during the 2021-22 financial year.

Launched in February, the Australian Universities Accord Final Report recommended partnerships with industry to fill critical skills shortages as a key priority for regional universities.

According to Federation University, they are continuing to work closely with the Federal Government to explore appropriate models for attracting talented international students and the contribution they make to diverse student bodies and local economies.