La Trobe University staff member speaks out

A LA TROBE University staff member says 170 forced redundancies could be made at the Bendigo campus as part of the institution's major restructure and has voiced her concern about the impact these cuts could have on the community. 

The staff member wishes not to be identified for fear of the consequences for her position.

She said, from discussions with other staff, she understood that up to 60 academic teaching positions and 110 professional administrative roles would go from the Bendigo campus.

The Bendigo Advertiser put the staff member's concerns to Pro Vice-Chancellor Richard Speed.

"I can't confirm or deny any of these numbers because the consultation process is still under way," Professor Speed said.

But he said 170 jobs from Bendigo was an "exaggeration".

"It's ridiculous to think that about half of the proposed total staff changes will be at the Bendigo campus," Professor Speed said.

"The total that we have talked about in the past across the entire university is about 350. 

"What they're saying is that half of the savings we're looking for are going to come from Bendigo. I can't tell you what the number will be, but that strikes me as an exaggeration."

The staff member said if the figure of 170 was correct, it would mean "the administrative core"  of the university would be moved to Melbourne with a "mere skeleton of administrative staff retained in Bendigo".

I can't tell you what the number will be, but that strikes me as an exaggeration. - Pro Vice-Chancellor Richard Speed

"The loss of these staff members is incalculable in terms of the loss to students and their families," she said.

"These people administer courses, support the students in their learning, provide counselling services, career advice, library assistance, course advice and perform a host of other services."

She said the loss of 60 academic staff implied significant areas of study would "disappear entirely from Bendigo" and that students would have to go to Melbourne or study online.

Professor Speed said, given the large amount of courses on offer in 2015, 60 redundancies was too many.

"Given that we want to keep teaching all of those courses, we can't conceivably cut that much."

However he said there would be cuts to academic positions.

"Many of them (academics) have skills that other universities would be foolish to overlook. Some people, I hope, will go on to careers at other institutions," Professor Speed said.

The Bendigo staff member said university management was not engaging openly with staff or the community.

"The community must demand open and honest communication if the university is not forthcoming," she said.

She said she was concerned for the "intellectual impact" of job cuts on the region, and that an exodus of academics could affect industry partnerships.

The staff member said the figure of 170 indicated a disproportionate loss to the Bendigo campus in favour of La Trobe's main Bundoora campus in Melbourne.

"This is not the time for centrist policies which downgrade the regions," she said.

She said vast job cuts at the Bendigo campus were at odds with growing economic investment in the city.

She said the cuts would mean families connected to university employees would also be forced out of Bendigo, causing a greater loss to the community than the initial 170 positions.  

Professor Speed said all campuses, including Bundoora, would be affected in the restructure.

"We are certainly not going to see a weakening of the regions," he said.

This is not the time for centrist policies which downgrade the regions. - Anonymous La Trobe University staff member

"We're committed to Bendigo, we're committed to making Bendigo a great university city."

The staff member said a key area of concern in the lead up to the restructure was the issue of online learning.

"Bendigo has been identified as being one of the lowest socio-economic regions in Australia. The particular needs of regional students are not likely to be met by a commitment to providing courses online," she said.

Professor Speed said the university needed to provide more course content online to meet students' needs.

"Currently most of our students are working pretty much full time to keep themselves in food and rent," he said.

"You simply can't assume they're available 40 hours a week whenever we want to teach them.

"As a principle as a university, we would like to deliver more material online."

He said regional students' courses would be "blended in some way" with a mix of face-to-face and online teaching.

The staff member said La Trobe Bendigo employees felt inhibited speaking out for fear of jeopardising their chances in applying "for the few positions made available in Bendigo".

"They are facing the prospect of having to compete for jobs against their colleagues, possibly move from Bendigo where they have established links and families, or lose their jobs altogether."

She said the atmosphere among staff was "demoralising and fearful".

Professor Speed said "strong opinions" were part of a healthy university environment. 

"In my experience, universities are institutions that are used to robust discussion internally. They contain a lot of people with strong opinions on many matters and they also have a lot of systems in place that mean that staff who voice opinions that are critical in management are well protected." 

He said the consultation process was still underway and management was seeking feedback from staff.

"There are ways in place where they can deliver that feedback anonymously," Professor Speed said.

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