Deakin University vice-chancellor Iain Martin has told staff the university must cut 180 to 220 more jobs as Victoria’s higher education sector continues to contract in the pandemic.
Professor Martin briefed staff on Tuesday about the deteriorating financial picture at Deakin and said the university’s problems were not all caused by COVID-19.
The university, which has campuses in Burwood, Geelong and Warrnambool, was already facing slower growth and rising costs in 2019, before the pandemic, he stated in a series of slides shown to staff in the online briefing.
Staff were told Deakin’s income will shrink by $220 million next year and staff costs have risen by 75 per cent since 2012, outpacing revenue growth.
Tougher economic conditions are likely to continue beyond 2022 and 2023, staff were told.
The proposed cut in academic and professional staff at Victoria’s fourth-largest university follow the loss of about 300 jobs last year.
The National Tertiary Education Union’s Deakin branch president Piper Rodd said the news was “pretty devastating because it comes on the back of such a massive upheaval and loss of jobs last year for Deakin, none of which were voluntary. Staff morale is at a really low point because everybody feels exhausted and overworked, and it’s exacerbated by the seemingly endless cycle of lockdowns.”
She said Deakin had failed to follow the cue of others such as Melbourne University, which recently gave burnt-out staff an extra five “recharge days” on top of annual leave.
Staff have been given until September 29 to give feedback on the proposed cuts, which will affect several faculties including arts and education, business and law, health, and science, engineering and the built environment.
The faculty of business and law is targeted for a reduction in academic jobs “due to an ongoing decline in student load” among domestic and international students.
Staff were told: “It is now expected that the faculty’s international student load will not return to pre-pandemic figures in the forseeable future.”
Similarly, demand for places in the faculty of science, engineering and the built environment are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels for “several years”.
The proposed changes, dubbed “Deakin Reimagined”, follow moves announced last month at La Trobe University to cut a further 200 jobs this year.
Universities Australia estimates the nation’s higher education sector has shed about 17,000 jobs in the pandemic. The sector was largely denied access to JobKeeper subsidies last year.
Much of the university sector’s financial troubles stem from the closure of Australia’s border to international students. Professor Martin has played a leading role in lobbying the Andrews government to back a pilot program for their staged return.
He also proposed mandating COVID-19 vaccines for staff and students when campuses reopen.
Deakin University posted a surplus of $17.23 million last year, its annual report states. The university has been contacted for comment.
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Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.