‘Worst fears’ realised at UWA

UNIVERSITY of WA staff are working in an atmosphere of “fear and uncertainty” after a plan to restructure the university and shed 300 jobs was announced.

National Tertiary Education Union WA division secretary Gabe Gooding said there was a considerable degree of fear among staff members at UWA.

“They shouldn’t have made the announcement without telling those people (who will lose their jobs). They should reconsider their decision,” she said.

Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson told staff last week that management had to save $40 million and was considering a proposal to change UWA’s academic structure from nine faculties and schools to four colleges.

The School of Indigenous Studies would be outside the new college structure.

A UWA spokesman said the university began a detailed consultation process with staff on various proposals about its future.

“The university is facing a number of financial challenges, which led to the University Senate late last year endorsing a plan to restructure the university and embark on a process to find savings of $40 million,” the spokesman said.

“Staff are encouraged to consider the proposals, and share their feedback and questions over the next few weeks.”

National Tertiary Education Union WA division secretary Gabe Gooding said the union was concerned that a Liberal Bill to increase flexibility and efficiency of university councils would diminish student and staff representation.

The Bill, which will be introduced to State Parliament in March, would replace voting for council members with a nomination process that would give university management more input and would require the Minister for Education to approve the representatives.

“We are incredibly disappointed to have our worst fears confirmed,” Ms Gooding said.

“There would be a reduction of the number of staff, students and alumni on councils; there will no longer be guaranteed places for alumni.

“It is highly likely that the representatives will be people that are supportive of that current council’s agenda.”

UWA Professor Tim Mazzarol said the democratic governance of UWA was an important issue that affected all staff and students.

“As soon as you start allowing the executive to pick its own board it becomes a governance issue… there has to be checks and balances,” Prof Mazzarol said.

“What do we exist for? We exist for our students, our community, our staff.

“We don’t exist for shareholders and we don’t exist for executive management.”

Prof Mazzarol said universities were becoming heartless, pointless organisations that did not believe in anything.

“They are trying to turn universities into businesses,” he said.

“If this leads to a significant reduction of democracy at the university, the inevitable result is people will switch off, they’ll disengage.”

Education Minister Peter Collier said the proposed changes to university councils would have very little impact on the day-to-day operations of universities.

“It will provide more flexibility,” Mr Collier said.

“The composition, in terms of the numbers, will not change.”

Opinion, page 9