Education Minister rebuffs National’s call to intervene on proposals for science culling at Massey

The two major parties are taking differing positions on Massey University’s proposals to reduce its science academic staff.

National’s science spokeswoman. Parmjeet Parmar, says she is worried at the scale of proposed cuts and has called for the Government to step in.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says universities are autonomous and it would be inappropriate for him to intervene.

Eight months ago Massey administrators signalled their need to cut spending by $18.1 million a year, including $11.7m of staff cuts in the College of Sciences.

The New Zealand Herald today reported revised proposals were released yesterday.

The two options tabled would retain most of Massey’s science qualifications but more than a third of academic science staff could be lost.

National’s Parmjeet Parmar said she was “staggered” at what she saw as inaction by Hipkins and her Labour opposite, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Megan Woods, “while the scientific community has been calling for help”.

The NZ Herald reports:

“I’m actually quite staggered at the inaction of the ministers in charge all this time while the scientific community has been calling for help,” National’s Parmjeet Parmar says

 She said the proposals could have a “huge negative impact” on science – and argued it was time for ministers to intervene.

But Hipkins said issues to do with staffing were decisions for the university – and a restructure for any reason was “clearly” the vice-chancellor’s own business to manage.

“As the Minister of Education, it would be inappropriate for me to be involved in operational decisions at universities,” Hipkins said.

“I would, however, note that the cost-cutting measures proposed are significant. I would expect the university to consult with staff and students before proceeding with any restructures.”

Under the options put forward yesterday, all of Massey’s 53 current science qualifications except for its Bachelor of Science (BSc) with Honours would be retained.

But both options involved dropping some specialisations and merging others, such as folding biochemistry into a wider biological sciences subject.

Changes under the first option was calculated to bring an improvement in equivalent full-time students (EFTS) per offering by 32 per cent, while supporting about 66 per cent of academic full-time staff.

But it also involved stopping Massey’s BSc computer science major without offering a replacement, and would also push the already-high workload for academic staff up by 7 per cent.

The second option would retain the computer science major, support about 68 per cent of full-time academic staff, slightly reduce workload and bring a 39 per cent reduction in the number of offerings, but lift the EFTS rate per offering by just under half.

Just weeks before releasing the proposals, Massey circulated a new communications policy.

Under this policy, staff are allowed to “promote civic leadership” on matters, but are banned from publicly criticising the university.

Staff must state whether they’re speaking in a professional or personal capacity and cannot be associated with the university if it is in a personal capacity.

A Massey spokeswoman told Stuff the policy would not be withdrawn. She said the policy was a management decision, not an employment matter, which did not require staff consultation.

Sources:  New Zealand Herald and Stuff

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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