University of Newcastle Alumni and Member for The Entrance, David Mehan, has labelled the decision by the University to drop geology from its Bachelor of Science program as ‘plain dumb’.
The decision comes as the University is expected to announce job cuts as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on its revenue.
“Geology is fundamental to our understanding of the planet Earth,” Mehan said.
“The failure to properly understand the earth’s geology and the dynamics of geological processes is at the heart of our failure to properly manage many issues relating to our impact on the earth, including coastal erosion, water security and building design.
“I am also concerned about the impact that this decision will have on the University’s ability to participate in the MINEX Co-operative Research Centre (CRC).
Advanced minerals processing and exploration is vital in ensuring that mining has low impact on the environment and providing the new minerals we need to power advanced digital technology.
“I have written to the University and asked it reconsider this dumb decision,” said Mehan.
“I also call on the State Government to provide more support for our university sector.
“NSW has the largest Higher Education sector in the country and the support provided in this state is miniscule compared to other states,” he added.
University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor, Alex Zelinsky, said the University started 2020 in a strong financial position but is now forecasting a revenue reduction of $58M for the year, with a need to find $35M in savings in 2021.
It’s understood that changes to courses and faculties offered is one such cost saving measure, with five faculties, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, Faculty of Education and Arts, Faculty of Business and Law, Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Health and Medicine all to be consolidated into three faculties.
Details of how these changes will be determined is expected in the coming months.
VC Prof Zelinksy also noted that the course optimisation program was being implemented to reduce complexity and overlaps in courses and to allow the University to offer fewer but better resourced courses and programs.
Staff retention, entitlements and benefits also remain a major point of contention, with the University continuing negotiations with Unions and has reached an in-principle agreement on measures to reduce annual leave, long service leave and to offer an early retirement scheme.
Negotiations continue regarding delaying staff salary increases that are due in September and September 2021 and delaying salary increments that happen on the anniversary date of commencement.
VC Prof Zelinsky said measures outlined were aimed at achieving financial sustainability and protecting as many jobs as possible.
“We know that we need to achieve savings and my goal is to do so in a way that aligns to our strategic plan and protects as many jobs as possible.
“Our negotiations with Unions must conclude by August 10 and I’m committed to providing an update to staff by that date.
“We continue to see strong interest in our courses for Semester 2 and we know people are looking to our University to help them retrain and reskill and help our regions recover from the impact that COVID-19 is having.
“We’re absolutely committed to providing an outstanding student experience and are excited about having students back for Semester 2,” VC Prof Zelinksy said.
With all that in mind, it will be a tense few days for staff at the University’s Central Coast campus at Ourimbah as they await the update.
Students will also be awaiting the decision, with the University Union’s dealings set to steer the course for the potential extent of further cost saving measures.