CQUniversity avoids redundancies in new initiative

CQUniversity today announced an initiative to avoid making up to 50 non-teaching VET staff redundant following two consecutive years of declining student numbers.

CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman said to avoid any loss of staff, the university would resort to a divisional restructure followed by the formation of a redeployment pool. 

"The University will soon restructure the VET Division to become far more competitive, financially stable, and geared for growth," Prof Bowman said.

Staff were issued the following letter today.

Dear colleagues,

I am incredibly proud of the way the entire university worked together to see the merger of CQ TAFE with CQUniversity just over a year ago. We pulled off the single greatest educational reform in Queensland's history, and in my opinion we are now the stand-out comprehensive university in Australia.

With the physical merger now successfully behind us, we must now move to the next phase of growth opportunities and financial sustainability within the new VET Division, and a far more effective unification with the wider university. I have spent a lot of time with the staff of our VET Division in past weeks, and the message I've heard loud and clear is that the merger still has a long way to go.

The staffing structure of the VET division remains largely unchanged from the State Government era, and is quite bureaucratic in nature when compared to the wider university. Financially the VET division still operates under the structures of the old public sector system and is unlikely to achieve sustainability unless something is done.

In terms of pathways and articulations there is still much work to occur before we see absolute unification. And perhaps most importantly, we are yet to fully realise the complete cultural merger of the two former institutions, with two distinct 'camps' still in operation. Professor Helen Huntly, DVC (Industry, Vocational Training and Access Education) will lead the University through the next stage of our five-year VET strategy.

This strategy is driven by growth and it will ultimately reveal the full potential of the VET Division. The most pressing item to tackle in the immediate term is the structure and the financial sustainability of the VET division. Last year CQUniversity welcomed on-board a terrific TAFE Institute, but unfortunately we've learnt that it came with a largely unsustainable financial structure in place. The Division simply hasn't been paying for itself, and we can expect a $6M loss on VET operations this year, and an $8M loss next year if nothing is done.

We've also seen two consecutive years of 20%+ decline in total VET student numbers largely due to the downturn in the resources sector, but some of it must be attributed to a model that simply isn't competitive with the new private providers entering the market. Here, I want to be perfectly clear. Our overall finances are strong. We currently hold more in cash reserves than at any time in our history. We have virtually zero debt. And we are in a very enviable financial position compared to the majority of other universities. However if we do not address the financial sustainability and competitiveness of our VET Division now, we risk running an overall university deficit budget from next year.

Even though it would only be a modest deficit, I do not want to see that happen. Those days are over, and nobody wants another year like 2013 to creep up on us again. Essentially we need to see the VET Division running as efficiently as the wider university to make our five-year VET strategy work. When you look at the wider University you will see domestic undergraduate student growth of approximately 40% since 2009, a record number of courses on offer, and more staff than at any time in our history.

Indeed next year we forecast more than 100 new positions coming online to keep up with course, campus and student expansion. We need to make some fundamental changes to the financial and staffing structures of our VET Division now to be able to replicate this growth in courses, staff numbers and success. I want to be completely open and say that we have been considering four main options to move forward on our VET Division.

The options range from 'business as usual' right through to a full restructure involving voluntary or even forced redundancies. After many discussions with management, unions, and University Council, I believe the best course of action available to us that would cause the least amount of distress to staff would be a VET Division restructure followed by the formation of a redeployment pool for any displaced staff. What does this mean? Next Friday I will circulate a proposed VET Division restructure model for the usual rounds of staff consultation as per the Managing Change process.

By early December, we will arrive at a finalised structure model that best places the university for the upcoming growth phase of our five year VET strategy. We will then begin to implement that new VET Division structure. I anticipate that approximately 40 - 50 predominantly non-teaching VET Division staff will find themselves sitting outside of the new VET structure - however this will of course be subject to rounds of consultation.

There will be no voluntary or forced redundancies facing these staff members. Instead, we will create a temporary new unit of the University called Professional and Project Services, where these staff members will work alongside a dedicated Manager on priority projects assigned to them by areas from across the University.

This will essentially be a temporary shared resource for the entire University to utilise. I anticipate this new unit will only be active for about a year. We are entering into a considerable growth phase within the wider University next year, with many new jobs coming online. As certain positions become available in the wider university, those staff sitting in Professional and Project Services will be redeployed to fill these vacancies, but obviously matched by skill on a case-by-case basis.

This approach will give us the new structure we need to be competitive and financially sustainable, while not resulting in any job losses. The other advantage to this approach is its alignment to the TAFE and jobs creation policies of the Queensland Government, whom we work very closely with as the public provider of VET in Central Queensland.

The Minister for Skills and Training Yvette D'Ath has been very supportive of CQUniversity in arriving at this course of action, and I look forward to working with her as CQUniversity enters into our own new phase of staff, student and course growth next year.

I understand that people may have many questions with this approach, and I encourage you to raise these with me or our People and Culture Directorate (PACDirector@cqu.edu.au).

PAC will soon be circulating an FAQ resource that will provide more information on the process we are about to undertake. But please be assured that this approach is the best option available to us that would cause the least amount of distress to staff, while best positioning our VET operations for the future.

As always we will undertake this process in full accordance with our Managing Change procedures (which you can view here), and I encourage all staff to provide feedback on the proposed VET Division restructure when it is circulated next Friday.

I look forward to keeping everyone updated on this process as it progresses.

Thank you