At our wits end

Posted By TEU on Oct 26, 2018 | 4 comments

Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, shares some of her experience talking with staff about what the failed market experiment in tertiary education has meant for people’s jobs.  

She walked into a meeting about job losses and restructuring at her university and burst into tears. The lecturer wasn’t losing her job, but the changes meant she’d been given more teaching hours and it was just too much to bear.

When the lecturer asked about having time to prepare for classes, the manager quipped: “do it in the weekend.” I advised the lecturer to go on stress leave but she just wiped away the tears and said “I’ve got a class to teach.”

In another city not far away a trades tutor found out he was being reassigned to teach a ‘more popular class’ even though it’s not his speciality area. The tutor tried to make the best of the change but constantly felt he was letting students down because management was making teaching decisions solely on what was financially sensible. And so he quit his job, gave up on his passion.

At the other end of the country, a cleaner in a hall of residence reveals her 13 year old daughter is going to have to stop netball because her wage was not high enough to allow for such ‘luxuries’. This in an institution that pays the vice-chancellor over $400,000 but where that same leader said the budget was too tight to pay a Living Wage to others.

People working in our polytechnics, wānanga, and universities are bearing the brunt of nine years of cost cutting by chief executives and vice-chancellors. Nine years of cost cutting in response to increased competition between tertiary education institutions and decreased public funding.

People are being harmed by a failed experiment of the National government to make tertiary education institutions operate like businesses and starving them of public funds to force competitive business-like behaviours.

Treasury’s own figures show a $6 billion gap between the public expenditure on tertiary education over the last decade and the cost of running the sector.

The thing is, for a decade now staff in the tertiary education sector have been asked to tighten their belts and take on ‘just a little more work’ in order to stabilise courses, research agendas, and student services.

Every year for a decade staff in universities, polytechnics, and wānanga have found themselves putting students, communities, and employers’ needs for trained workers ahead of their own.

We just can’t keep doing it. Our own families are suffering because of wage rises that fail to keep up with the cost of living. Our health and well-being is being compromised by the drive to do more with less.

This is why staff that dedicate their working lives to tertiary education, and giving students the best possible learning experience, are demanding better.

Why should cleaners, librarians, tutors, support staff, lecturers, researchers, IT teams, and administrators in our tertiary education institutions bear the cost of the National party’s failed market agenda?

Why should the people who ensure your family members get the skills and knowledge they need to have a good life suffer daily with overwork, stress, and bullying?

The vice-chancellors and chief executives have had decent pay rises, as have their senior leadership teams. Politicians over the nine years of National had decent pay rises.

And yet both have expected staff to bear the brunt of the underfunding without complaint. It just is not sustainable, people are hurting.

The government needs to change the funding model, and bosses in tertiary education need to step up and genuinely look the well-being of staff.

If they don’t act, more good workers will leave; more will buckle under the pressure; and, there will be more and more families missing out on everyday experiences because of low wages.

This doesn’t need to be the fate of workers in the tertiary education sector. It’s up to our institutional and political leaders. It’s time they stepped up and took action to improve the pay and conditions of all tertiary education workers.

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  1. I’ve left the University of Otago because of the c**p going on with the Support Services Review and their penny-pinching behavior towards staff, but happy to spend 28M to refurbish a building that has support beams exposed that creates a health hazard for a non-sighted member of staff. The VC’s pay increase last year was more than what I earned FOR the year. It was more than most of the administrative staff earned in a year! Academia is not BUSINESS (unless you’re one of the fly-by-night training providers).

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  2. I too have left Otago, faced with the choice between a significantly downgraded position or scrapping with my colleagues over one of the few newly created, low-level supervisory positions. (Interesting to note: there used to be 2 steps in the hierarchy between my position and the VC; now there are 5.) Doing more for the same money or taking a salary cut are the only options for the many staff in my position. Meantime, the students and staff that I have been proud to work with are navigating cumbersome new processes and ‘fixes’ for things that weren’t broken. My academic colleagues in particular who were promised ‘increased resources for teaching and research’ as a key outcome of the review are being left with less embedded support and increasingly fragmented and faceless services. And all this took three long years of heartache, stress and anxiety. One former colleague was reduced to tears every time we discussed her options.

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  3. Well done Sandra

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  4. Well done Sandra every word you said here I resonate with.

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