November 26, 2004

More Academics Face Axe

TOO many papers plus not enough students equals decline -- that's why Massey University's College of Sciences is planning to shed 60 of its 600 staff next year.

College of Sciences pro vice-chancellor Robert Anderson's paper on why the jobs have to go is now being considered by staff.

Of the 60 jobs to go, 40 positions will vanish to save money. The other 20 positions may be held, to be filled by people who have the qualifications to match the university's future strategic science directions.

Professor Anderson writes that two critical issues for the college are that staffing costs too much when compared with revenue, and staff have an unsustainable teaching portfolio involving too many papers with too few students.

Massey several years ago asked staff to diversify teaching offerings to woo more students. It did not work. Numbers did not increase and students studying just spread over more papers, increasing staff workload to unacceptable levels.

Averaged figures showed that staff were teaching 3.7 undergraduate papers, with 2.5 equivalent fulltime students. Average staff to student ratios in the college at Palmerston North were 1:10.4 students.

International workloads for academic staff were two undergraduate papers, and depending on the discipline, ratios should be between 13 to 20 students for each staff member.

Getting more students to rescue the college was not an option.

After the job and paper cuts, Prof Anderson said he wants to ensure that Massey is left strategically positioned as a top- quality research institution. The Government now insists that universities' teaching is research-led, to differentiate from polytechnics and other private providers.

Cutting staff teaching workloads by trimming uneconomic papers is the first step, because it will free staff time for more research. At the same time, deciding what should be taught and researched will set the university's strategic direction for the future. It is inevitable that student numbers -- the popularity of various courses -- will partly push this process.

Professor Anderson said that internationally, some universities coped with these problems by chopping whole programmes, or simply stopping science. Massey did not want to do this because it is largely excellence in sciences that has lifted the university into the lists of the top 200 in the world.

Massey had tried to cope with sciences' higher costs by cross- subsidising -- using some of the fees generated in other parts of the university. International students studying business had been a helpful source of science funding in the past, but dropping student numbers meant this cross-subsidisation could not continue.

Professor Anderson said the College of Sciences' intellectual strength will always be underpinned by fundamentals -- chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology.

His paper suggests that strategic directions for the college's future should include activities in agriculture, veterinary and life sciences, industrial innovation through engineering and technology, and land, water and the environment.

Specifics suggested for the Palmerston North campus include ramping up agriculture, pushing sports and exercise science, cooperating with the College of Business's strengths in information technology, redeveloping biological products and processing aspects of the technology and engineering degrees, implementing plant sciences reviews -- and continuing to push Massey as the leading environmentally focussed university in New Zealand.