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Auckland VC risks undermining PM’s vision for education

University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon's proposal to cut staff from the Faculty of Education risks worsening the chronic teacher shortage facing New Zealand, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) said today.

McCutcheon told staff this afternoon that he proposed to cut 23.4 full-time equivalent jobs from the university’s Faculty of Education and Social Work. The proposal is justified on the basis that the Faculty had fallen short of meeting an arbitrary performance measure. Focusing on meeting these narrow performance measures has diminished the contribution the University of Auckland could instead be making to help the government address the teacher shortage, the TEU said. It will also undermine Associate Minister Tracey Martin’s commitment to increasing the number of social workers we have to care for those most in need. The cuts come at a time when the University of Auckland posted a budget surplus of nearly $70 million, which could easily be used to prevent these and future job losses.

In a newsletter to staff shortly after the government’s first Budget, McCutcheon cited government efforts to reduce the financial barrier to education by offering a year of free tertiary study as a reason to expect more staffing cuts. The TEU said this should sound alarm bells in Labour and trigger a rethink in how the Government talks about the fees-free policy. The TEU cautioned that VCs like McCutcheon could be trying to pitch students and staff against one another by suggesting that the reason people are losing their jobs is because students are being better supported into education. Ministers need to take statements like this extremely seriously and work to ensure VCs run universities in the best interests of all New Zealanders.

Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU, said: “We have a chronic shortage of teachers, and this is having a serious impact on our ability to give kids the best possible learning experience at school. Ensuring they get this experience is going to be a vital part of rebuilding the tertiary education sector - because kids need to feel ready to go on to do further study, and a positive school experience is a crucial part of that. Our members have also been trying to get their heads around why this is happening now, when the university has such a large surplus and the government is in the middle of reviewing how the tertiary sector works.

“We have welcomed government efforts to improve schooling, such as scrapping national standards and reforming NCEA. And whilst we know there are many reasons for the teacher shortage, the Prime Minister’s efforts to address it certainly won’t be helped by Stuart McCutcheon saying today that we wants to cut back on the very people we need to train the teachers of the future. Proposals like this do, of course, make us think about the people affected and their families, but they also provide further proof that narrow performance measures of the past are broken. VCs must accept this and start working with us to reform the sector. That way we can ensure the universities they run are making the best possible contribution to teaching people the knowledge and skills we desperately need as a nation.”

Alongside cuts to the Faculty of Education, McCutcheon also announced today a proposal to cut back the Faculty of Arts by around 11 full-time equivalent staff. The decision will impact on the Schools of Culture, Languages and Linguistics.

“Securing New Zealand’s position in the global economy will depend on our ability to understand different cultures and to communicate in the language of our partners. Cutting back teaching in these areas will make that much harder. It will also put at risk the university’s reputation for delivering world-class teaching in these areas,” Grey added.


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