‘BIP’ MANIA: Uni poised to close student centre, sack well-being and disabilities coordinator to implement BIP plan
The University of Melbourne has announced its intention to axe a net total of 540 staff positions in a bid to streamline administrative processes across the university. The “Business Improvement Program” (BIP) aims to reduce staff numbers to 2010 levels by the end of next year. The cuts will begin on Friday. The university insists that the BIP is in no way connected to any possible future budget cuts by the coalition government.
The university has restricted access to the BIP from students and the public through a password-protected website. De Minimis has managed to obtain a leaked copy of the document. The document envisions creating new roles such as “brand vision and marketing advisor”, while cutting key student services such as disability and well-being support, reducing library staff, and eliminating the law school student centre entirely.
There has been no allocation made for student consultation in the BIP, which appropriately refers to us students as “customers”.
Prof Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, says that the BIP will enable the university to save $70 million in costs per annum, and that the savings are needed in “an increasingly competitive international tertiary market”.
The cost-cutting scheme will impact the law school directly, with sources confirming that the school’s student well-being coordinator and disability liaison, Kate Van Hooft, will have her position eliminated within the next few weeks. Many students have already expressed dismay as news of the elimination of the position broke on Friday.
Pat Easton, former president of the LSS, stated that “MLS has contributed to a growing body scholarly research which has shown that law students are particularly susceptible to developing mental health difficulties compared to students of other disciplines. MLS has been widely recognised within the profession and by Australian law schools as leading the way with its integrated network of wellbeing mechanisms directed to the particular needs of its law students... It is disappointing to see the apparent disregard in the BIP for MLS’ efforts.”
Henry MacPhillamy, a law student who uses the disability liaison support, is dismayed by the news. He noted that the changes to disability support were justified in the BIP by the “Disability Action Plan”, which advocates “streamlining” services across campus. After having reservations about how this would impact on well-being at the law school, MacPhillamy raised his concerns to Prof Margaret Sheil, Provost of the University of Melbourne.
In an emailed response, Prof Sheil stated, “our aim is to increase the number of staff that can provide support and services to students experiencing a disability. We will retain a core team of disability support experts that will provide advice and information to all staff that interact with students as well as in the provision of assistive technologies, support services or for more complex case management. Students will have more ways to access this support and assistance that more readily suits their needs without relying on a single contact point and its availability.”
This statement, however, is contradictory to the BIP, which calls for staff cuts and centralisation of disability support services to a single contact point.
The university states that the program is part of an effort to streamline administrative services for students, making processes easier for students to navigate by combining the services. All student centres across campus will be combined to create one student centre utilising the 13 MELB telephone service, which the university states will reduce “touch points” for students. However there are serious doubts as to whether centralised services will make anything easier for students. De Minimis called 13 MELB last week and was put in a queue behind 28 other students. When we subsequently tried to reach the law student centre, our call was answered in less than ten seconds.
The massive cuts in staff will be partnered with “significant reductions in existing administrative workloads” mainly through automation. The paper highlights three ways to cut staff workloads – through the introduction of a single online enquiry management system, streamlining enrolment, and creating “a new mobile app linking campus maps to a student’s timetable” which will “reduce the number of requests for assistance with directions”. In addition, administrative staff will be expected to work as invigilators during examinations, and be present to assist during graduation ceremonies.
Along with the student centre, the law school’s career centre will also be shuttered and consolidated into one careers centre serving all students at the university. Library staff will be cut; however, the exact details of the amount of cuts are not known because the BIP does not specify how many jobs are to be axed or if the law library is safe from these cuts. Although it has been rumoured that the law library’s hours will be reduced, De Minimis has found nothing to substantiate this claim.
Property services staff will also be reduced and consolidated, as well as information technology. The report recognises many criticisms for IT, including “high overall cost, low quality of service, inconsistent project delivery and limited customer focus”. The program will rectify these problems by utilising “enhanced end-user self-service capabilities”.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) expressed that it was “totally shocked by the announcement” of the cuts to 540 staff positions. In an official statement, the NTEU stated that the University of Melbourne already spends less money on staff than any G08 university. Ted Clark, NTEU branch president, stated that “the BIP is an attempt to move the University of Melbourne into a degree factory that will compromise the quality of the staff and the student experience. The BIP is an inherently flawed document. From development to implementation, it lacks the detail to convince or reassure the NTEU branch that it is good for staff, students and the reputation of the university.” Clark also laments about the possibility of students not being able to access competent and specialised advice through 13 MELB.
De Minimis will be covering this story in detail over the next few weeks. Students are encouraged to contact us with their opinions and concerns about the cutbacks, especially of the elimination of the well-being coordinator position and the law student centre, at email@example.com. A selection of comments will be shared next week.