2012 Budget and Staffing Q and A

Q&A following publication of Fair Work Australia Agreement (26 March 2012)

Q: What happened at the 22 March Fair Work Australia hearing?

A: After the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) notified Fair Work Australia (FWA) of a dispute with the University about the change process, an agreed resolution was reached at a hearing on Thursday 22 March. This resolution provides for the change process to continue as outlined in the University’s Final Change Plan, with the addition of a further consultation stage, described below. (Download the Terms of Settlement If you have trouble accessing this document, please email university.communications@sydney.edu.au for assistance (PDF, 520KB).)

Q: But hasn’t the change process been frozen? That’s what I’ve heard in the media.

A: No, the process is continuing. There will now be additional consultation with staff who are directly affected by the change proposal because their positions are being considered for redundancy, or because they have been offered a move to a teaching-focused position. As well, there will be consultation with other staff who work closely with directly affected staff and whose work may be impacted by the proposed changes.

Q: So, what happens next?

A: Staff who received a letter on 20 February telling them their position was under consideration for redundancy or transfer to a teaching-focused role will be told on 30 March if that is still the case. The additional consultation process referred to above will then run from 2 to 27 April.

The University will consider alternative proposals that arise during the consultation process. On 4 May, the University will publish a final implementation plan which will report on both the outcome of the consultation process and proposed actions, including redeployment. Individual staff whose position is affected will be notified of the University’s final decision on 7 May. In the case of redundancies, the formal notice period will commence on that date. For full details, see the FWA agreement. (Download the Terms of Settlement If you have trouble accessing this document, please email university.communications@sydney.edu.au for assistance (PDF, 520KB).)

Q: What about staff who’ve already accepted voluntary redundancy?

A: The University has notified staff who have accepted voluntary redundancy that they may withdraw their acceptance if they wish to do so. The Provost must be notified of any withdrawals by 5pm on 30 March. Any staff who withdraw their acceptance of voluntary redundancy will be included in the group of staff under consideration for redundancy or a transfer to a teaching-focused role until informed otherwise.

Q: One of my immediate colleagues has been told they are being considered for redundancy. Does that mean I have to take part in this new round of consultation?

A: The University has undertaken to consult with the immediate colleagues of staff who will be directly affected by the change proposal through redundancy or a move to a teaching-focused position. The staff who will be consulted are those who are potentially impacted by the change process, and they will be contacted by their head of discipline, school or dean during the 2 to 27 April consultation period. They may also make individual submissions or request individual meetings with their head of discipline, school or dean.

Q: Does this mean everyone I work with will know that I’m being considered for redundancy?

A: The University cannot meet its obligations to Fair Work Australia without consulting with your immediate colleagues who will be directly affected. We will, however, stress that these consultations are extremely confidential, and expect that your colleagues will respect your right to privacy.

Q: When will I find out if my position is no longer under consideration for redundancy?

A: Staff will receive a letter on 30 March telling them whether their position remains under consideration for redundancy or a transfer to a teaching-focused role. Following the consultation process explained above and detailed in the FWA agreement (download the Terms of Settlement If you have trouble accessing this document, please email university.communications@sydney.edu.au for assistance (PDF, 520KB)), staff whose position remained under consideration as of 30 March will be notified of the University’s final decision on 7 May.

Q: When will this current round of change be complete?

A: The individual staff concerned will be notified about the University’s final decision in relation to their position on 7 May. In the case of redundancies, the formal notice period will commence on that date. Affected staff will have a four-week ‘consideration period’ during which they can decide whether to accept voluntary redundancy, seek redeployment or seek a review of the decision to make their position redundant. The redeployment period runs for eight weeks after the end of the consideration period.

It is anticipated that the change process for academic staff will conclude on 8 August. In December, the University will report to the Management and Staff Consultative Committee on the impact of the changes, including an assessment of impacts on workloads. The Chief Financial Officer will report to that committee at the same time on the financial outcomes of the implementation of the plan, and an evaluation report will be produced in February 2013.

Q: Is it true the end result will be that 340 staff will be made redundant? I’ve heard staff numbers are going to be cut by 7.5 percent.

A: The claims that staff numbers will be cut by 340 or 7.5 per cent are wrong. At this point, fewer than 100 academics are being considered for redundancy. In terms of general/professional staff, faculties, portfolios and professional services units (PSUs) are now required to operate within an expenditure cap that restricts the total amount they can spend on general staff salaries, casual salaries, contractors and other administrative salaries. Individual areas can decide how best to meet that cap, and so the final number of redundancies will not be clear until managers of the administrative units decide how to make required savings in their areas.

Q: But the University has introduced a recruitment freeze, hasn’t it?

A: No. The University is continuing to advertise and fill vacant positions. However, as often happens in the normal course of business, some administrative units may have decided not to fill – or delay filling – vacant positions pending reviews or in order to make savings.

Q: Why aren’t senior staff being targeted as well as academics?

A: Senior managers of the University have agreed to a salary freeze in 2012, and central portfolios and professional service units have made substantial cuts in non-salary expenditure as well as having to meet their salary caps.

Q: Why is the University making committed teachers redundant at a time when student numbers are increasing? Won’t this process reduce the number of teaching staff and lead to higher student/staff ratios?

A: The Academic Assessment Process took into account those academics who had a demonstrated heavy teaching load, and they were withdrawn from the pool being considered for redundancy or were offered a teaching-focused role. As a result, the number of dedicated teaching staff will in fact increase. The University has offered 64 staff teaching-focused roles and a number of others have come forward voluntarily seeking these positions.

Q: But I’ve heard some people say teaching-focused roles are inferior. Aren’t academics who have been offered those roles being demoted?

A: Teaching is central to the success of our University, and we have many excellent teachers among our staff. The claim that a teaching-focused role is a ‘demotion’ displays an unfortunate attitude towards one of our two core activities.

Teaching-focused staff will retain their current titles, remain on their current salaries, retain all existing entitlements, including access to the Special Studies Program, and have a clear promotions path. At the end of a three-year period they may, if they wish, negotiate to return to a mixed research and teaching role, if their research plan is accepted.

Q: Won’t some postgraduate students be left without a supervisor?

A: In the natural course of events, it has always been possible that a postgraduate student’s supervisor retires, leaves the University, or that the supervisory arrangements change for a variety of reasons related to student needs etc. Only very rarely does this mean that another supervisor cannot be found to cover a particular thesis. With regard to the change proposal, at most only a very few students are likely to be unable to be given another supervisor and these situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Why is the University pressing ahead when it’s running a financial surplus? Surely, there’s no financial problem.

A: As the University has communicated since the publication of the Draft Change Proposal on 21 November, the operating surplus reported in the financial statements is not profit that can be used in any way we choose. Rather, most of the surplus consists of:

  • grants from the federal government that must be spent on particular infrastructure projects
  • income from donations and bequests that the University is legally required to invest in perpetuity, using only the income for particular purposes
  • research grants and other government funding for special purposes that cannot be used to support staff salary costs.

Q: Even so, the University shouldn’t be putting buildings before people. So why is it?

A: This claim is often repeated but does not take into account the complexity of budgeting in a large and complex organisation. We have an obligation to ensure that we will be better prepared for the future. We must invest in some of our older buildings now to meet our legal obligations under health and safety, disability and other legislation, and we need to spend on our information technology systems to ensure they are fit to support our research and teaching.

It is a false dichotomy to say that this change proposal is putting buildings before people. Our staff and students need appropriate facilities to learn, teach and research in, and the University has seriously underinvested for years now. If we continue in this way, in a few years time our facilities will simply have become more and more suboptimal, and we will no longer be able to attract high quality staff and students.

In a similar vein, the Australian National University announced on 26 March it needed to cut costs to “invest in outstanding people, world-class equipment and more efficient processes”. If we stand still we will be left behind.

Q: But even if the University needs to make cuts, isn’t research output an unfair criterion to use to target staff for redundancy?

A: Research was not the only criterion used. If that had been the case, more than 600 staff would have been considered for redundancy. After consideration of a number of other factors, including teaching commitments and individual personal circumstances, the number of academic redundancies is likely to be less than 100.

The research target of more than three publications over the assessment period is not ‘arbitrary, retrospective and unfair’, as has been claimed. It is reasonable to expect that of staff who are paid to spend 40 percent of their time – the equivalent of 19 weeks full-time each year – on research. The change proposal also took ameliorating factors (such as leave, health, heavy teaching or administrative loads) into account, enabling each Faculty Assessment Panel to argue for individuals to be removed from consideration: they successfully did so in the case of three-quarters of the staff members who were originally identified in the assessment process.

Q&A in response to NTEU all-staff email (30 November 2011)

Q: Is it true that 190 general staff and 150 academic staff positions are going to be axed?

A: No decisions will be made about staff reductions until the completion of the consultation process, and the University has not stipulated any specific staff numbers. We need to make a 7.5 percent reduction in staff-related expenditure, and this equates to a total saving of $25 million. However, the University always regards involuntary redundancy as a last resort, and there is room for flexibility in the way savings are to be achieved.

Each faculty, portfolio and professional services unit will be given an expenditure cap for general staff salaries, casual salaries and contractors, and will be required to meet that cap. This may be achieved through a variety of approaches, including reduction in the use of casual staff and contractors, a decision not to fill positions left vacant through natural attrition, and other measures which may include restructures and redundancies. Areas contemplating changes affecting staff will release and seek comment on draft change proposals prior to any changes being implemented, as required under the Enterprise Agreement.

Academic staff savings will be assessed differently. As a research-intensive University, it is appropriate to examine the relative contribution our staff make to our research output. ERA data provides an independent measure. The process has been designed to be transparent, impartial and intelligent in its approach, to ensure that it takes into account all circumstances surrounding individual and disciplinary differences in research output.

Q: Is there already a 'hit list' of staff who will be made redundant?

No, definitely not. The University has only identified those academic staff who appear to fit the initial criteria of having published three ERA “research outputs” or fewer in the period from January 2009 to 4 November 2011.

A: This will then be examined by a Faculty Assessment Panel to ensure that all staff who meet any of the exceptions as specified in the Draft Change Management Proposal are removed from the process before consideration by the Central Assessment Panel.

No individual general staff have been identified for redundancy – faculties, portfolios and professional service units will develop change management proposals for consultation, as required under the Enterprise Agreement.

Q: The University is making changes without consultation. Doesn’t this breach the Enterprise Agreement?

A: No decisions have been made. The University has identified a need to reduce its operating costs and has put forward a proposal for managing this. The proposal has been published in line with the “Managing Change” process in the Enterprise Agreement, and no decisions will be made until staff and union feedback has been fully considered. All staff are able to provide input to the process. Comments on the Draft Change Proposal are due by 9 December 2011. This is the first stage of the consultation process. A formal change proposal will be prepared after considering staff and union feedback, and staff and unions will then have an opportunity to comment on the formal change proposal, and following that there will be opportunities for consultation on the final change plan and implementation arrangements.

Q: Surely it’s arbitrary and unfair to use only one measure – ERA publications – to decide whether people should lose their job?

In a research-intensive University, assessment of relative research output is a fair starting point to make decisions about possible redundancies, and ERA data provide an independent measure of research output.

However, ERA outputs won’t be the sole determining factor. Teaching contributions will be taken into account to ensure that students are not adversely affected by the reduction in academic staff numbers and that staff who have been performing ‘above load’ teaching duties are not disadvantaged in the redundancy selection process. The assessment process will take into account individual factors such as disabilities or absences due to illness or parental leave. It will allow flexibility in the assessment of research output to ensure that staff who have produced one or two substantial works, or have made significant progress towards a substantial work or have appropriate works pending publication are not disadvantaged in the assessment process.

This approach is of course not locked in. It has been proposed because the University believes that it is fair for staff and will not be detrimental to students. Selection on another basis, such as ‘last on, first off’ or whomever wished to accept regardless of impact on research or teaching, would be entirely arbitrary, and could have an adverse impact on teaching.

We have a consultation process to hear concerns and alternative viewpoints. If there are other fair and workable ways to achieve the required staff-related savings, staff are encouraged to put them forward in the consultation process.

Q: Isn’t this performance management in disguise?

A: No. The University’s proposal to reduce staff is a budgetary measure specifically to ensure the University meets its financial targets and can provide for the future consolidation and growth of the institution.

Where the size of a workforce needs to be reduced for reasons relating to the employer’s operational requirements (including financial requirements), the resulting job losses are redundancies. Where a reduction in staffing numbers is to be implemented by reducing the overall number of staff engaged in the same kind of work, there must be a process to determine which staff will be made redundant. A process based on relative performance is consistent with the requirements of the Enterprise Agreement to have fair and objective selection criteria for redundancy.

The proposal is not about “underperformance”. There will be staff with three or fewer ERA publications who are strong performers, and staff with more than three ERA publications who are currently going through a performance management process. Performance management is an entirely separate process.

Q: The University wants to enrol more students next year, but you’re saying we need fewer academic and general staff.

(a) How will we manage the extra administration this volume of students will create?

A: The University has been undergoing a major review of administrative services and has identified instances of duplication and inefficiencies, many of which had been flagged during our strategic planning consultations. Each unit will be responsible for maintaining essential services within their allocated expenditure cap, which will be determined with sensitivity to unit roles and resources. More efficient administration processes will allow service levels to be maintained as student numbers increase.

(b) Won’t this just mean more crowded classrooms, higher student–staff ratios and a diminished student experience?

A: One of the underlying principles of this change is that it will be done in a way that does not impact teaching quality. After considering a staff member’s research output, Faculty Assessment Panels will take into account the impact on performance of ‘above load’ teaching or administrative duties, and will also give consideration to situations in which staff are undertaking teaching and postgraduate supervision work that their school must provide in 2013 and which could not be provided through other means. As well, as part of the process, some staff may also choose to transfer to teaching-focused positions under the Enterprise Agreement.

Q: Aren’t you putting buildings before people? Everybody I talk to says they’d rather have more academics than better buildings and IT systems.

A: There is no doubt the quality of teaching and research in a University is first and foremost dependent on the quality of its staff. However, we also need to consider the classrooms, laboratories and IT systems that underpin quality teaching, learning and research. Good teachers can’t teach well unless they have the proper facilities to do so; good researchers can’t research without adequate equipment and facilities. Unless we invest now, in a few years time those facilities will have become more and more sub-optimal. We need to re-set our approach to investing in our infrastructure, so that we have prepared properly for a future in which we can be sure staff will have what they need to do their work.

Q: Is this an attempt to provide funding to support the University’s takeover of the University of Sydney Union? I believe student activities should be run by students.

A: The University fully supports the notion that student activities should be run by the students. The USU is the best and most appropriate body to run clubs, societies and student activities for all students. However the University can no longer subsidise the USU so that its commercial outlets can break even, as we have done for the years since the introduction of VSU.

The proposed changes to the USU's operations will enable significant budget savings for the benefit of all students and the University. This is an entirely separate issue and should not be conflated with the Draft Change Proposal.

Q: Did the Auditor-General’s Report really say that our financial reporting was slow and in poor shape?

A: In fact the contrary is true. Each year for a number of years, the University of Sydney has been the first university in NSW to report and clear its annual financial report. The only reference to the quality of financial reporting in the 2010 Auditor-General’s report is regarding some small subsidiary companies that were acquired by the University, and the problems with their records relate to periods before the University took control of the companies.

The one area in the Auditor-General’s report where the University has been singled out for criticism is in relation to the backlog of $385 million in building maintenance costs, an issue not facing other New South Wales universities. The University’s Strategic Plan specifically addresses this issue along with the broader need to invest in new teaching and research facilities.

Q: What did the Auditor-General say about our use of contractors?

A: In 2009 the Auditor-General recommended that each of the state’s universities should develop and maintain a comprehensive central register of contractors as an effective cost control mechanism. In 2010 the Auditor-General recognised in his report that the University of Sydney had implemented new centralised recruitment processes for the engagement of contractors, had established enhanced payment controls, and was conducting an on-going review of contractor arrangements to optimise costs and controls. The Auditor-General accepted this as an alternate approach to a centralised register, and did not report it as a concern in their 2010 report.

Q: Why haven’t we seen any detailed costings of the proposed staff cuts?

A: Costings have been done to estimate the reductions in staff-related expenditure that are needed to meet our budget objectives. However, at this stage the University’s proposal is a broad one which is at the first stage of the consultation process. More detailed financial information will be issued when the Final Change Plan is developed.

Q&A in relation to Draft Change Proposal (21 November 2011)

Q: What changes are proposed?

A: First, we will reduce our non-salary expenditure next year by $28 million. This means that every area will need to examine all their activities and find savings. There will have to be some serious belt tightening.

Second, we must reduce the cost of our administration more quickly. Each faculty, portfolio and professional service unit will be given an expenditure cap restricting the total amount they can spend on professional staff salaries, casual salaries and contractors. Each area will be able to decide how this will be managed, but the cap must be met.

Third, we need to consider the position of that small minority of academics who do not contribute significantly either to our research or teaching. We will immediately put in place a plan to manage this process and we are expecting that a number of academic staff will be offered redundancies, pre-retirement contracts, a rebalancing of their duties and the like. This will be a University-wide, open and transparent process, based on a set of rigorous but very clear criteria and we will be consulting with you about that process.

Read the Draft Change Proposal for full details of this third strategy.

Q: Why is all this necessary?

A: We must, among other things, invest in our buildings and ICT systems: their current state is of real concern to everyone. We have a backlog of repairs and maintenance, and there is an urgent need for new facilities to better support you and your work. If we are to meet these needs, we must take some stringent measures. We will have to reduce our expenditure: we will have to accelerate the implementation of our plans for reform.

Q: Why is this process occurring now?

A: Upgrades are long overdue for our buildings and our information technology infrastructure. At a bare minimum, in 2012 we need to spend $53 million on repairs and maintenance and replacement of basic IT infrastructure, some of which is 20 years old. These repairs can’t be postponed any longer.

Q: Exactly how big is the total backlog of repairs and maintenance?

A: In May 2011, the Auditor-General reported to the NSW Parliament that the University of Sydney had a backlog of repairs and maintenance of $385 million. There are serious OH&S upgrades required in many older facilities. The critically urgent list of repairs will cost $37 million and the University needs to fund that immediately.

Q: How big are these other budgetary cuts?

A: Non-salary expenditure will be reduced by $28 million in 2012 and every area of the University, including faculties, portfolios and professional service units, will be required to make cuts to their budget.

Q: Will the central portfolios and University-wide programs be asked to make cuts too?

A: Yes. All areas will be subject to parallel processes concerning non-salary budget cuts, staffing cost caps and, where relevant, the academic staff assessment process outlined in the Draft Change Proposal. In addition SEG has made some clear decisions about cutting some of the deputy vice-chancellors’ programs in order to generate further savings.

Q: Why are staff cuts being considered?

A: We can’t achieve the savings we need by reducing non-salary expenditure alone. The University currently spends 56 percent of its revenue on staff – this compares unfavourably with other Go8 universities. The Draft Change Proposal recommends reducing the funds allocated across the University for general staff, contractors and casual staff by 7.5 percent, and reducing the number of continuing and fixed-term academic staff across the University by 7.5 percent.

Q: Why is any of this necessary when it has been reported that the University recorded a surplus of $113.7 million last year?

A: The operating surplus is not profit that can be used at the University’s discretion. Most of the surplus consists of grants from the federal government that must be spent on particular infrastructure projects; income from donations and bequests that the University is legally required to invest in perpetuity, using only the income for particular purposes; and research grants and other government funding for special purposes that cannot be used to support staff salary costs.

Q: Why are these measures necessary when we have had record levels of philanthropy this year?

A: Almost all of the money raised through bequests and donations is designated for specific academic purposes such as new chairs in particular disciplines. The University has very little discretion in how those funds are spent.

Q: When will these proposed staff reductions occur?

A: No decisions have been made about staff reductions. The University’s Draft Change Proposal describes the basis on which any proposed staff reductions would be made. In accordance with the ‘Managing Change’ provisions of the University’s Enterprise Agreement, the University has commenced a consultation process so that staff feedback is provided on this proposal. If after completion of the consultation process the University decides to implement staff reductions, they will be likely to occur in mid-2012 or sooner if staff request.

Q: Why would you reduce the number of academic staff when our student/staff ratios are already very high?

A: The process takes account of situations in which staff are undertaking teaching and postgraduate supervision work that their school must provide in 2013 and which could not be provided through other means. It will also take account of ‘above load’ teaching allocated by the faculty in the past.

Q: Why hasn’t the University consulted the staff unions about these plans?

A: The consultation process with staff and their unions started with the release of the Draft Change Proposal and the Vice-Chancellor’s message to staff. No final decisions have been made and the University will continue to consult with all relevant parties – including the staff and their unions – as this process continues, as provided for in the University’s Enterprise Agreement. The proposed consultation plan is included in the Draft Change Proposal.

Q: How will the process work for academic staff?

A: The process is outlined in Appendix 1 of the Draft Change Proposal. The process is fair, rigorous and transparent, and based on objective criteria.

Q: Why will academic staff be assessed on the basis of research performance?

A: As a research-intensive University, we are judged, and receive funding, based on our research performance. The University’s proposal is that assessments of academic staff will be based on their research outputs as defined in the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) guidelines, or research outputs assessed by the Faculty Assessment Panel. The process will be based primarily on relative research performance on a University-wide basis.

Q: How exactly will research performance be decided?

A: Research performance will be assessed on ERA ‘research outputs’, including books, book chapters, peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals, peer-reviewed conference papers, creative works such as visual art, design, composition, recording or live performance, and curated exhibitions over the period from January 2009 to 4 November 2011. More information about the ERA definition of research outputs (1.4 MB, PDF).

Q: Will any academic staff be excluded from the assessment process?

A: The following categories of staff will not be included in the process:

  • casual staff
  • staff on long term sick leave
  • staff who have formal resignation/retirement arrangements in place (such as staff employed on pre-retirement contracts or who have given notice of their retirement/resignation)
  • staff on existing teaching-focused contracts
  • fixed-term appointees where appropriate (ie having regard to circumstances of their contract)
  • staff whose salaries are wholly funded from external sources
  • postgraduate fellows and other early-career researchers
  • staff who joined the University after 4 November 2010.

Q: In the last three years, I’ve published fewer than three items that are recognised as fulfilling the ERA collection rules, but there were very good reasons for that. Will my circumstances be considered?

A: Yes. Under the University’s proposed arrangements, the Faculty Assessment Panel will be required to take into consideration factors such as:

  • where a staff member has produced one or two substantial works
  • has made significant progress towards a substantial work or has appropriate works pending publication
  • career breaks such as parental leave or sick leave
  • performance of ‘above load’ teaching or administrative duties allocated by the faculty
  • the staff member’s length of service in the position.

Q: How can I be sure the process will be fair and objective and that decisions will not simply be based on the personal whim of a supervisor?

A: There are strict guidelines to ensure that the academic assessment process is fair and transparent. The process is outlined in Appendix 1 of the Draft Change Proposal. Deans, pro-deans and heads of schools and disciplines will all be involved in the initial assessment process, which will be followed by discussion by a Faculty Assessment Panel and then reviewed by an independent Central Assessment Panel chaired by the Provost. Final decisions will be made by the Vice-Chancellor.

Q: Will there be any flexibility for staff to move to teaching-focused roles?

A: Yes, teaching-focused roles may be an option depending on the faculty’s operational needs and budget and the agreement of the member of staff concerned.

Q: In the last three years, I’ve published more than three items that are recognised as fulfilling the ERA collection rules. Can I still apply for redundancy?

A: Yes. No decisions have been made about redundancies or any other aspect of the University’s Draft Change Proposal. However, staff are always able to speak to their dean or PSU director about individual voluntary redundancy and options such as a change in the balance of duties, part-time work or pre-retirement contracts. The availability of these options will depend on operational needs and budget constraints.

Q: Will it be possible to apply for a promotion during this process, or will promotions be ‘frozen’?

A: The annual round of academic promotions will proceed as usual. Deadlines for applications will be available on the Academic Promotions web page from January 2012.

Q: How will the University decide which professional staff will be considered for redundancy?

A: Each faculty, portfolio and professional services unit will be responsible for managing within an expenditure cap, which in most cases will be lower than their 2011 budget allocation. Reductions may be achieved through a combination of ways, such as reductions in the use of casual staff and contractors, natural attrition and other measures, which may include restructures and redundancies.

Q: Who can I talk to about the proposed changes?

A: If you have questions about how you might be affected by the proposed changes, you can speak to your dean, PSU director or HR adviser. The University also has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which provides free-of-charge confidential advice and support to all staff. To speak to the EAP, please call 1300 361 008. All calls to the EAP are confidential, and the University does not receive any reports about who has contacted the service.