University forecasts the need to find $35M in savings in 2021

Central Coast campus at Ourimbah Photo: UON Central Coast

A cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over all of the University of Newcastle’s campuses, including the Central Coast campus at Ourimbah, after the University confirmed that it has failed to reach an agreement with unions over salary measures aimed at reducing the financial impact of COVID-19 on the institution.

In July, the University forecasted a $58M reduction in revenue for 2020, with $35M in savings needed to be found in 2021.

Several cost saving measures were also confirmed as part of that announcement, including the consolidation of five faculties into three: Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment; Faculty of Education and Arts; Faculty of Business and Law; Faculty of Science; and, Faculty of Health and Medicine.

Additionally, course optimisation will see the University offer fewer courses across all of its campuses.

Measures also include protocols to reduce staff annual leave and long service leave and delays to staff salary increases and salary anniversary increments.

It’s understood that August 10 was the deadline set by the University for negotiations to be finalised, with agreements reached on measures within existing Enterprise Agreements around voluntary measures related to annual leave, long service leave, purchased leave and an early retirement scheme.

However, negotiations pertaining to salary related measures to see deferral of two scheduled 2 per cent pay rises and annual pay increments until December 2021 have failed, and according to University Vice Chancellor, Professor Alex Zelinksy, it’s a disheartening outcome.

“I am disappointed that unions have not supported these measures.

“We have tried earnestly to find common ground in our negotiations,” VC Zelinsky said.

“I genuinely believe that we were in a position to reach an agreement with the CPSU.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement with the NTEU.

“This is a difficult time for our staff, as it is for many in our community.

“Our goal was to delay pay increases and save around $12M to $15M, which would have equated to around 120 additional jobs that could have been protected, depending on the mix of academic, teaching, and professional staff.

“We will now need to find $12-$15M in further savings through measures within our existing Enterprise Agreements,” VC Zelinksy said.

It’s understood that the University will pursue these savings from restructuring, course reviews and by seeking other efficiencies across the institution.

The Chronicle asked VC Zelinksy what the negotiation breakdown means for the Central Coast campus and can confirm that no jobs have been lost there at this point in time.

“The University of Newcastle needs to address the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our staff and students.

“Like many in the tertiary sector, we cannot avoid financial impacts entirely.

“We are doing everything we can to minimise job losses,” VC Zelinsky said.

“The first thing we want to look at is voluntary measures such as early retirement or purchasing additional leave.

“Our course review will focus on what students want.

“We will look at all our degrees and programs to identify which are popular, which are successful.

“At this stage, we don’t yet know what that looks like from campus to campus.

“We will consult with our staff in faculties and schools at Ourimbah as we go through this detailed process together,” he concluded.

Dilon Luke

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