New Zealand universities hit by long-term attack on wages and jobs

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) recently published a report on funding and salaries at New Zealand universities.

Although limited in scope, the report commissioned from economic consultants BERL (Business and Economic Research Ltd), provides insight into the long-term assault on salaries and conditions of university staff.

The report is a damning, if unintended, indictment of the TEU, which has done nothing to oppose the wave of attacks on public education, staff and students by university administrations and governments. successive.

Unitec Campus of Carrington Road Institute of Technology, Auckland

The TEU said it commissioned the report, titled Where does the money go? Analysis of the financial statements of New Zealand universities, because he wanted to know where public and private investment in universities was going and “to identify the problems that needed to be solved”. BERL’s analysis was based on the annual reports of the country’s eight universities since 2008.

The report establishes that overall operating revenues and expenses from 2008 to 2020 grew faster than inflation, peaking in 2019, before the onset of the COVID pandemic. Total university operating revenue increased by 25%, public funding by 16.5%, tuition revenue by 45% and research revenue by 48%.

The sector has overseen a significant increase in the number of international students and a decline in the number of domestic students. As is the case around the world, international students, who pay much higher, unsubsidized tuition fees of tens of thousands of dollars, have been used as cash cows to prop up universities. International students have become New Zealand’s fourth largest export earner.

Primary responsibility for this system lies with the Labor government’s ‘Learning for Life’ program from 1984 to 1990, which opened the door to a series of government funding cuts, abolished free higher education and introduced the first tuition fees. tuition, while forcing universities to operate on competitive “business” lines and through entrepreneurial activities.

According to BERL, since 2008, access to contestable research revenue and tuition revenue has grown faster than government funding, thereby shifting the burdens, financial and otherwise, onto staff and students. While total university operating expenditures increased by 18%, the growth in staff costs and salaries, despite an increase in staff, only increased by 7%. Spending increases focused on properties, new buildings and equipment.

The report points out that average wages have not kept up with inflation since 2007/8. Salaries at the University of Otago have fallen in real terms by 10% in 13 years, while at the University of Auckland, the largest in the country, the decline was 17%.

The TEU manages to evade its own culpability in this assault. He boasts that the union “has negotiated settlements most years that reflect inflation.” From 2006 to 2008, after two years of unspecified “national action” by TEU members culminating in “tripartite talks”, wage increases of 7.5% in 2006 (CPI 3.3%), 6 .2% in 2007 (CPI 2.5%) and 5% in 2008 (CPI 4.1%) were traded.

The TEU says nothing about wage settlements or any alleged “action” from 2008 to 2020. This was a period, after the 2008 financial crisis, of intense restructuring, with widespread layoffs, an increase in tuition fees and student debt, and reductions in admissions, classes, and libraries.

The union has collaborated in many attacks. In March 2010, for example, TEU branch president Megan Clayton said she was “reasonably satisfied” with the way the University of Canterbury consulted with the union before imposing nearly 100 redundancies.

In 2015, the TEU reacted to 300 impending job cuts at Unitec in Auckland by calling on management “to undertake change so that staff are on board with the changes; and at a pace that will allow change to take hold.

With the onset of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, border closures led to a reduction in international student enrollment by more than half. In 2019, New Zealand had approximately 22,000 full-time international students paying total fees of NZ$562 million. This quickly dropped to less than 10,000 students. While apps are now “recovering” with the reopening of borders, they are only functioning at 50% of pre-pandemic levels.

The financial “hole” provoked an immediate and severe attack on jobs. Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) said it expected a loss of $12 million and the University of Auckland expected a loss of $30 million.

The TEU quickly signaled that it would not oppose the assault. In May 2020, when a hiring freeze was already in place, the TEU demanded that union officials be included in all “high-level decisions” on the impacts of COVID-19. He called on ‘all concerned parties representing government, industry leaders, unions, staff, students and their communities’ to collaborate on a ‘national strategy’ to deal with the impact of the travel ban .

The TEU welcomed the bogus advice from the Higher Education Commission (TEC) that the financial impacts would be “appropriately managed” in relation to the staff cuts. Afterwards, TEU National President Michael Gilchrist said, “Staff reductions should be the last option considered.

By March 2021, some 700 jobs had been cut across the country. At the University of Auckland, 300 people had signed up for ‘voluntary’ severance pay, at VUW 100 did the same, and at each of AUT, Massey and Lincoln more than 70 staff had already left or were leaving . Auckland said it paid $44 million in layoffs to staff whose jobs were cut.

New TEU chairperson Tina Smith told Radio NZ the job cuts were “huge” and that “senior academics are being kicked out, pushed, encouraged to leave because they want them to be replaced by cheaper options”.

The TEU’s modus operandi was presented to the VUW, where staff were warned that ‘additional measures’ would be required due to expected losses reaching $33.5m in 2021, adding to a $19m shortfall for 2020. TEU branch president Dougal McNeill – a leading member of the pseudo-left International Socialist Organization – said the announcement left members “ready for a fight”. In fact, the TUE accepted certain cuts as inevitable and helped to impose them.

After VUW publicly ruled out “large-scale” layoffs, the TEU claimed victory, saying on Facebook: “The Vic Uni branch has shown what is achieved when we stand together.” Some 60 “voluntary” layoffs were made as the TEU made no attempt to unite university staff in a nationwide campaign against the cuts.

The entire union bureaucracy, meanwhile, did nothing to oppose the decision of Ardern’s Labor government last October, following demands from big business, the media and university administrations, to abandon virtually all public health precautions and let COVID “rip.” The unions acted as the executors of the “back to work” program.

The results have been disastrous, including in universities. In March of this year, COVID-19 swept through VUW residences. The university has reported 648 cases across its 13 living quarters, a quarter of all student residents, many of whom had only arrived a week early to start the year. The administration has maintained in-person conferences, with a streaming option available.

Attacks on jobs in the wider service sector are set to continue. The government is currently restructuring the country’s polytechnic system, merging 16 vocational training institutions into a single entity, which is expected to save $52 million per year from 2023.

The polytechnics currently have about 7,800 employees. The TEC recently pointed to a 16% decline in enrollment over the past five years and warned that the necessary financial results could not be achieved unless large numbers of staff leave and further staff cuts. jobs are taxed.

The TEU has decided to funnel members into a corporatist “consultation” process that involves commenting on the proposed “operating structure,” with no campaign to oppose any attack on jobs, wages and conditions.

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