The ‘VU Agenda’ – A Preliminary NTEU Perspective
The current proposal for major organisational change at VU, the ‘VU Agenda’, invites consultation. It foreshadows major changes for General, Academic, and TAFE staff. For General Staff that comes both in the form of the proposed Shared Services and, for some, in the colleges proposal; for Academic Staff in the form of the colleges proposal but also in the possible integration of TAFE diplomas; for TAFE teaching staff the savage State Government budget cuts to diploma courses may lead to the integration of TAFE and Higher Education in some form.
A major thrust of the change proposal is to create shared General Staff services across the Faculties and other parts of the University. The major assumption in this proposal seems to be that there are economies to be made by sharing General Staff in this way, or that there is a hidden pool of General Staff ‘downtime’ which can be taken advantage of. This contention has not, however, been empirically demonstrated and may actually have the effect of the exacerbation of General Staff workloads to the point where they are not able to effectively do their work. The proposal has the potential to seriously damage the ability of the University to function and earn income.
The current changes broadly seem to be driven to a significant extent by the Shared Services model in that smaller entities such as colleges are seen as less likely to develop internal shared services than larger entities like Faculties. There is a need for much greater clarity about how the Shared Services model will work, so that it does not destroy effective arrangements to serve students that exist at present.
The ‘Colleges’ Proposal
Some staff have expressed concerns that on a key issue, the creation of the colleges, no other options have been put on the table for discussion. This was seen as a flaw in the change process in that it does not admit that other solutions may be more appropriate. However, in subsequent discussion with the Vice-Chancellor he has advised us that the VU Agenda document was approved by University Council as a draft, and that the number of organisational units was not necessarily fixed at nine, but was open to consultation in the round of discussions currently underway.
Further, the integration of the Diploma areas of TAFE into Higher Education areas of the University, as part of the colleges proposal, is a very complex process which has ramifications around the different styles of teaching of TAFE and Higher Education, workloads, pay and employment conditions. These problems require careful working through involving Academic and TAFE staff affected prior to any proposed restructure.
Another reason for the importance of focussing on the process of integrating TAFE Diploma staff into Higher Education is the savage cuts to TAFE funding in the Diploma area in the recent State budget. As a result of the budget, the model of the dual-sector university is no longer viable.
This has obvious impacts on the existing structure of TAFE, but does not necessarily mean that the existing Higher Education faculty structure needs to be immediately changed. Using our scant resources to do too many things at once, runs the risk of doing nothing well. It is as though we wish to live in a house where every room is being renovated simultaneously.
It is also not demonstrably clear that the Shared Services model, which in itself is a major change, would only work effectively with the proposed nine colleges. This places Academic teaching staff and General Staff once again in the spotlight for wholesale changes to their place and pattern of work, and is unacceptable. Despite repeatedly stated aims, restructure at VU has not once improved our financial situation and continues to be a measure taken by management unable to find real and effective solutions to the University’s financial challenges.
The dire financial woes pre-date the Victorian budget decision to reduce TAFE funding at VU by up to $29 million. These circumstances do not appear to warrant the institutional reorganisation proposed in the Agenda paper. Neither does a major discipline and Faculty/School organisational restructure follow automatically from the financial problems. While some degree of cross-subsidy is inevitable, the spread of the risk across the entire University places the whole University at risk and weakens our ability to compete in the competitive Higher Education sector.
The VU agenda paper also overrides all accepted principles of governance, or the way decisions are made in the University. The Agenda paper assumes that we can afford to continue as a dual-sector University, but the detail of the internal financial structure has not been made known to members of the University community to assess this claim. This is not a formula for good decision-making.
Our University status and branding is dependent on Higher Education and independent research. We need to focus on our students, providing high quality University-level programs of study. This includes students from disadvantaged educational backgrounds, but it is far from clear that this task should be given to TAFE. Professor Richard Teese’s paper on the Curriculum Commission website provides a significant direction for pedagogic responses for these Higher Education recruits.
There is recognition that the concentration of power and resources in the ‘centre’ needs to be reversed, but this should not be at the expense of disciplines, cross-disciplinary research and HDR. Responsibility and ownership of key University decision-making needs to be returned to bodies located in the academic and teaching centres, including academic programs, quality assurance and planning, while involving staff at all levels.
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