By: Simon Collins

Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger is looking at job offers from other universities in New Zealand and overseas after redundancies at Massey University. Photo / File

Top scientists are looking to quit Massey University in the wake of a voluntary redundancy offer which appears to have backfired.

Albany-based Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, who won New Zealand’s highest science honour the Rutherford Medal in 2014, says he is looking at jobs in other universities here and overseas after receiving an offer of voluntary redundancy.

The university sent the offer to all 1000 staff in its Colleges of Sciences and Health on October 31, aiming to cut costs by $11.1 million in 2018 and by $15.7 million from 2019.

University spokesman James Gardiner said about 50 staff in sciences and about 20 in health took up the offer by the due date last week and the university was now deciding which staff it would let go.

But Schwerdtfeger said others would follow because of the uncertainty.

“We have two very gifted academics in Albany leaving because of this,” he said.

“Almost everybody is looking for other jobs, including myself. I am looking at other universities. I have offers outside New Zealand. I can go almost anywhere.

“I have my family in New Zealand, but I hear that other universities in New Zealand are not doing so well financially either.”

A senior lecturer in chemistry who has taken a job in Australia said he worried that the university might close down whole groups of researchers to achieve its savings targets.

“Strong groups of researchers take a long time and a lot of energy to build up in a particular place, and misguided leadership can destroy all that very, very quickly,” he said.

Massey’s nursing school in the College of Health has been particularly hit. Its Wellington nursing campus had 11 staff at the start of this year and eight have either left already or applied for redundancy.

NZ Nurses Organisation chief executive Memo Musa said the cuts would be “very short-sighted” if they affected nursing graduate numbers.

“We will be alarmed if this impacts on New Zealand’s ability to continue to have a nursing workforce with the right education, skill and experience,” he said.

Gardiner said only three people in the Wellington nursing school took up the redundancy offer.

“This will not affect the viability of the school or the quality of the programme offering to students,” he said. “We are planning on expanding our health programmes in Wellington.”

He said the cuts were required to achieve a surplus of 3 per cent of the university’s income to fund future investment.

“The 3 per cent surplus is a requirement (performance indicator) set by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) for all universities,” he said.

“Massey has not achieved this in recent years, but is on track to go much closer this year and has a goal of achieving the target next year.”

However Tertiary Education Union president Dr Sandra Grey said TEC scored tertiary institutions’ financial performance on a range of indicators and did not require a specific 3 per cent surplus.

She said the voluntary redundancy offer was made without detailed plans for the sciences and health colleges or a formal restructuring proposal, which would have triggered consultation. Formally, it was not a “redundancy” but “an enhanced voluntary retirement and resignation offer”.

The union has advised its 1100 Massey members not to accept the offer and plans a national “cross-sector forum” in February to discuss the future of all tertiary institutions.

Source: NZ Herald

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