Grim tidings hit UWA staff yesterday, with the announcement that 230 full-time equivalent professional workers are now to lose their jobs under the proposed administrative restructure. This is an increase of 30 from the earlier figure of 200 – a figure that was, mind, put up even before the Fair Work Commission demanded the University extend its process of consultation after pressure from the NTEU.
The decision will cull professional FTE staff from 1,542 down to 1,312. Does the number include those who have opted to ‘jump ship’ of their own accord? We’re waiting for a reply from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on that one. Several squadrons of professional staff can heave a sigh of relief however, being listed as ‘out of scope’ (management-speak for out of the firing line) – including business units such as PIAF, Child Care Services, UWA Sport, and the Albany Centre. For others, and as Campus Morning Mail (CMM) reported this morning, “anybody who fears they will not be happy in the new service will not have much time to decide to go – VR [voluntary redundancy] applications close on September 2.” However, as the document states, “the University has no obligation to accept any staff member’s voluntary redundancy request”. Well then.
Beyond the added cuts, the updated proposal brings added insight to the University’s service delivery structure to be rolled out. The centrepiece of this latest phase of the Renewal Process, it will see the creation of five ‘Service Delivery Centres’ (SDCs) – one for each of the four new faculties, and one for the central administrative divisions and School of Indigenous Studies.
For those that do remain, the restructure looks to be about as painless as the shattering and then resetting almost every bone in the University professional body. There’s going to be a whole lot of shaking down and shuffling about – with services slammed together, outsourced and tossed overboard – as staff are transferred from their current positions to ones within the new SDCs. Of interest to students, for instance, Student Life and Student Administration will be amalgamated under a new ‘Student Experience’ portfolio, with admissions now to be administered under Brand, Marketing & Recruitment. A good move? We shall see. The keyword found everywhere is: streamlining.
Upon being notified of their new position (in a yet unspecified location), staff will have just three days to ask for a formal review of their transfer. (I doubt the petition “but I’ve worked alongside Angie for thirty years; we share a key lime pie every day at 3” is going to fly. Because I am a sentimental, this makes me sad.)
The process aims for standardisation where needed and automation where possible, for greater mobility, the elimination of double-up services, and to achieve overall streamlined functioning (somewhere, Don Watson winces). CMM “gives it six months for the various baronies in brand, marketing, recruitment, development alumni, and business development to start skirmishing for territory.” Among its long preamble of justification, the proposal cites the new demand-driven system (which has Universities no longer capping placements for students) and the internationalisation of the student market (that overseas student dollar is premium, and “unless you really like windsurfing”, as someone lately quipped, Perth isn’t likely to be the first option, lagging in popular appeal as it is behind ‘most livable city’ Melbourne).
The driving motive behind this whole restructuring is, well, to make more money. Fretting about global rankings (we learnt 10 days ago that we are four places away from getting knocked out of the top 100), UWA is angling to generate an operating surplus of $35 million annually. This money would constitute a ‘future fund’ to invest in “world-class” infrastructure and IT, and to sink into research priority areas. What gives priority to a research area though? Pelican wonders. Given our University very almost invested $4 million into ‘climate change is okay!’ Bjorn Lomborg’s Consensus Centre last year, there is good reason to be worried.
The document drops five days before another forum next week. Open to staff and “relevant unions”, it is assured “additional detail relating to positions and structures” will be soon to follow, with more opportunities for consultation offered. The forum is to be headed by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater (the face of the Renewal Project) and Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson (the puppet-master). Whether it will – as with last forum – be just another case of University leaders equivocating and boring everybody’s socks off with blandishments, followed by ten or so minutes of hurried question time, is anybody’s guess. My guess is: probably.
The announcement further undermines not only trust, but confidence in the University leadership. For the last eight months or so, staff have been dragged along, bullied, ignored, dismissed and made to indefinitely endure a climate of anxiety, paranoia and frustration over their future job security. Yesterday, they learned that the situation was even worse than they had initially been led to believe. What kind of University is our Vice-Chancellor manufacturing here? Under what kind of logic? An institution of learning, grounded in UWA’s deep history and tradition should not be picked apart as a machine geared only towards achieving ‘economies of scale’.
As Academic Staff Association writer and Senior Honorary Research Fellow Victoria Burbank wrote in an open ‘academic manifesto’ from June, “we do not see any advantage to running a university like K-Mart”.
Words by Kate Prendergast