University of Newcastle sacked hundreds of staff despite recording obscene surplus

National Tertiary Education Union

It has been revealed the same year the University of Newcastle announced plans to make hundreds of staff redundant, it also produced a surplus of $185 million.

The University of Newcastle’s 2021 annual report was tabled in parliament yesterday and reported a surplus of $185,270,000.

NTEU Newcastle Branch President Dan Conway said the University will move quickly to engage the smoke and mirrors of university accounting.

“Management, supported by the corporatised University Council, leveraged the ‘unique opportunity’ that they called Covid and sacked hundreds of staff despite admitting in as early as 2020, they knew this surplus was coming,” Mr Conway said.

“UON Management will now move to present this as a one-off, that the funds are ‘restricted’, or that it is an unrealised ‘on paper profit’ to play down the University’s financial position.

“The fact is, though, the University finances, audited by the NSW Auditor-General, don’t lie where others try.”

Mr Conway says the NTEU accepts that most organisations would be proud to have achieved such a surplus, however coupled with the job cuts, it is a scathing indictment on University management.

“Management, including those on Council, need to answer for their actions of continually cutting away at staff and, in turn, cutting away at student learning,” Mr Conway said.

“This surplus, and those for every year going back more than a decade, show that our University is among the most financially secure in the country,” he said.

While the NTEU accepts that Covid presented some uncertainty, it also cautioned against knee jerk reactions, which have long-lasting, and sometimes irreparable effects.

“These results vindicate our position. Our University was never under threat from Covid. It was, and remains however, under threat from management and successive federal governments who neglect our institutions,” Mr Conway said.

“Let’s not forget that our University, like most, is supposed to be, and by law is, not for profit. $185 million from a not-for-profit that cries poor at almost every opportunity? Please! I am sure that any true not-for-profit would be singing from the rooftops if they had a surplus like that.

“But, then again, a true not-for-profit would also see fit to channel that profit into its core purpose. For us, that is teaching and research.”

The NTEU says in preparation for the job cuts, university management told staff, “we’re all in this together.” University management asked staff to tighten their belts and forgo entitlements like pay rises (while they took theirs). Staff were told the job cuts were the cuts “we had to have” to save an institution we all hold dear.

“The hypocrisy involved here is brazen and deeply problematic. For an institution that should be setting an irreproachable standard in ethical operating, this level of bad faith, if not downright deceit, is unconscionable,” Mr Conway said.

“At its heart, a University isn’t its buildings. The University is the staff. The University is the students. The University is its community. These are the things which need protecting.

“Newcastle and its regions deserve much better than this and the NTEU hopes the incoming federal government will move quickly to repair what has proven to be a broken higher education system.”

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