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EDITORIAL: Uni changes ahead

Federation University’s plans to undertake a major transformation program will result in the loss of about 200 jobs across its four campuses. 

With campuses in the Wimmera, Ballarat, Gippsland and Berwick, the university is the leading regional university in Victoria. It offers vocational and higher education courses in partnership with employers and industry groups in disciplines including nursing, allied health, education, IT, renewable energy, engineering and conservation science.

The university said the transformation program ‘Future Fed’ would bring ‘a streamlined and contemporary operating model for Federation that removes duplication and red tape and allows for strengthened investment in the student experience, technology, high-quality teaching and research, and an expansion of regional industry partnerships’.

‘Future Fed’ responds to the ongoing decline in student numbers across the higher education sector since the onset of COVID-19.

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The number of international students attending the university fell by 49 percent between 2019 and 2023, resulting in a $79.1 million decline in the Fed uni’s revenue. The university is aiming for an annual cost savings of $20 million in 2024 to return to an operating surplus from 2026.

As a first step, the university announced last month it had invited staff to express interest in a voluntary redundancy process, concluding at the end of April.

If the uptake from the voluntary program is insufficient, the university will explore a non-voluntary redundancy program.

While at this stage, the exact number of staff affected at each campus is unknown, the Future Fed program does cover all campuses, and it must be a nervous wait for the 30 staff at the Wimmera campus.

National Tertiary Education Union members at Federation University have vowed to fight management’s plan to cut the 200 positions, equivalent to about 12 percent of staff.

Union members criticised management’s lack of vision for the future of Fed Uni, and are planning mass rallies, an ongoing media campaign, and pursue legal measures to enforce its Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

The Australian Universities Accord Final Report, launched in February, recommends partnerships with industry to fill critical skills shortages as a key priority for regional universities.

That’s exactly what has been happening on the ground in the Wimmera – the university’s introduction for students to undertake part of a Bachelor of Education in Horsham is an example of how it is helping address the region’s teacher shortage. 

It will be a vital piece of the jigsaw to fill critical employment shortages in the Wimmera. 

Wimmera campus director Christine Brown has worked hard in this space, but in a further blow, she will depart her role later this month. 

While Fed Uni say Ms Brown’s departure is not related to the Future Fed program, the role of Wimmera campus director will be abolished, in line with changes made last year at other campuses.

It is imperative to have leadership at a local level, as each region had different complexities, and we hope that Fed Uni continues to work closely with local industry experts to meet the needs of the Wimmera.

Like all universities, Fed Uni has been hit hard by the downturn in international students during COVID, and changes to international student visa arrangements continue to exacerbate the issue.

Fed Uni says it is working with the Federal Government to explore appropriate models for attracting international students – and we implore the government to address the issue urgently.

International students in particular sectors where there are employment shortages could be the key to finding solutions, particularly in regional areas.

If they move to a regional town to study and work, they might just make it their long-term home.

The entire April 10, 2024 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!