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Melbourne University slashes 450 jobs in response to pandemic hit

The University of Melbourne will slash 450 jobs in response to a loss of international student revenue.
The University of Melbourne will slash 450 jobs in response to a loss of international student revenue.CREDIT:EDDIE JIM

The University of Melbourne will slash 450 jobs in response to a $1 billion loss of revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision follows a previous failed attempt to convince university staff to vote to accept a 2 per cent pay cut.

The 450 jobs, equivalent to about 7 per cent of the university’s workforce, will include academic and non-academic roles. A number of casual and fixed-term roles will also go, although the university said it was still determining which roles were no longer needed.

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell said the pandemic meant that many thousands of international students had been unable to join the university this year, in a blow that would be felt for years.

With fewer students, the university would need fewer staff, Professor Maskell said.

“This is an extremely difficult decision at a challenging time for our community.

“It affects many dedicated and hard-working staff members who have worked tirelessly for the university, especially over the last six months, some of whom will leave us by the end of the year.

“However, these steps are necessary to ensure that the university not only survives this crisis but is well-positioned to thrive in the future.”

Victoria’s universities have suffered heavy financial hits from the loss of international students. Deakin University has previously announced a plan to cut more than 400 positions, while Monash University will shed 277 staff.

The University of Melbourne had 23,948 international students enrolled last year, making up 44 per cent of its student numbers.

The loss of overseas students is estimated to cost it $1 billion between 2020 and 2023, including a $310 million loss this year and a $380 million loss next year.

The university will run a $100 million deficit budget in the next two years in response to its lost revenue.

It envisions a total enrolment decline of 10 to 12 per cent next year and in 2022.

The announcement of redundancies follows a change in federal government funding for university degrees, currently before Parliament, which will add further uncertainty to university revenue sources in the next few years.

The National Tertiary Education Union’s University of Melbourne president, Steve Adams, said he was sceptical when Australia’s richest university cries poor.

“By its own admission, Melbourne University has almost $4.5 billion in reserves. Many hundreds of casual and fixed-terms employees have already lost their livelihoods,” Mr Adams said.

“There are many options available before resorting to massive job cuts, but management has taken a shortcut with crude cost-cutting.”

Meanwhile, Victoria University told staff on Wednesday that it would be forced to reduce the size of its workforce in response to revenue losses of more than $50 million this year.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Peter Dawkins, said a voluntary redundancy round would probably be pursued, as well as a variation to the enterprise agreement to minimise pay rises.

Professor Dawkins said the second wave of COVID-19 in Melbourne had damaged the university’s hopes of bouncing back quickly from the virus-driven revenue slump.


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