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Southern Cross uni tells staff 'we will never return' to pre-COVID ways

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Southern Cross University has told its staff the institution is facing an “economic crisis” with the coronavirus acting as an “accelerant” on a fire that has been burning for more than a decade.

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Vice-Chancellor Adam Shoemaker addressed staff in a video on Monday, during which announced an estimated $58 million funding gap over the next two years, a potential freeze on planned wage increases and called for staff to voluntarily reduce their workload. He told staff:: “We are not returning — we never will return — to the way we were before COVID-19 struck.”

The ABC has received a transcript of the video which was emailed to staff.

In it, Shoemaker said the ship had permanently sailed on what was the status quo.

“The virus has poured accelerant on a fire which has been burning at Southern Cross for over a decade,” he said.

“Our scale is too small, we often incentivise the wrong outcomes, we are drowning in complexity and our attractiveness in the student marketplace is too low.”

Shoemaker said the university’s workforce would need to be restructured to help combat the growing funding gap and adapt to survive the “critical juncture”. “I cannot sugarcoat this — we are experiencing an economic crisis which is still building in intensity,” he said.

“We projected at least a $15 million core funding gap for this year — 2020. The latest projections are that we must bridge a further, additional core budget deficit as high as $43 million over 2021–2022.

“The financial impact on us in 2021 will definitely be greater than in 2020.

“That is mainly due to the pipeline effects of the enormous downturn in international student recruitment which we have all seen.”

Other measures include a new academic model.

Staff feel blamed for ‘management’s failure’

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) NSW Division secretary, Michael Thomson, said he had been bombarded with calls from the university’s staff concerned about their jobs.

“I wasn’t at the meeting but my phone went ballistic following the meeting,” he said.”People were calling and telling me that basically they felt that they were being told that they had to pay because of the management’s failure to financially run a university.

“It was their jobs that were on the line [and] the university wasn’t recognising that actually the university staff are the people who have kept the place going.”

Thomson said the vice chancellor had agreed to meet with the union’s representatives on Thursday to discuss the announcements in more detail.

This will make or break us

Shoemaker said the video was about outlining the scale of the pandemic-induced financial battle the university would be facing over the next two years.

“The decisions and actions that we take together over the coming weeks and months will either serve to secure our future; or see us lose the right to determine it,” he said.

Shoemaker said the university’s priority in the wake of the pandemic has been to secure the health and wellbeing of staff and students.

“We must now apply the same clear and unified focus on our response to the economic challenges which we face as an institution,” he said.

“We are not returning — we never will return — to the way we were before COVID-19 struck.

“There is a new world of work and of academic work ahead of us.”

Southern Cross University has three campuses; two in northern New South Wales at Lismore and Coffs Harbour and one at the Gold Coast in Queensland.

– ABC / Leah White

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