Massey University: Save Our Sciences at Albany
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At a time when high-level scientific research and training is needed more than ever to meet society’s most pressing challenges, such as the spread of disease, climate change, biodiversity decline, and food security, Massey University Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa (MU) in New Zealand has proposed to cut science from its Albany campus in Auckland.
The proposed changes are outlined in a College of Sciences discussion document which was released on the first day of semester and, for some students, the very first day of their university experience. The proposed changes are part of a new “Digital Plus” strategy, which pushes to consolidate subjects onto a single “anchor” campus and replace face-to-face teaching with digital platforms.
The proposal casts an uncertain future for over 70 staff, 150 post-graduate students, and 650 undergraduate students, whose departure would have detrimental impacts on the local economy. Some of Massey’s fastest-growing and most profitable teaching programmes will be discontinued, and New Zealand will lose one of its most successful, diverse, and influential research groups.
There is no compelling business case or risk assessment for the closure of sciences at Albany nor the move to digital platforms. Neither staff nor students were consulted prior to the release of the document. The success of the proposed changes is predicated on the assumption that students, in a competitive university market, will happily move cities to follow their programmes or be taught via digital platforms. There is no evidence to support these unlikely assumptions.
The move is consistent with a pattern of routine failure of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) to consult with staff when making important university-wide decisions. This pattern is symptomatic of a lack of representation at higher levels of management. In particular, time and time again, the SLT has demonstrated a lack of vision and appreciation of the opportunities offered by our hard-working, talented staff and the prime location of the Albany campus, which sits at the heart of the fastest growing populations in New Zealand.
We would welcome an opportunity to work together with senior management to develop alternative solutions to ensure the viability and success of our university. Every day this document remains on the table, it does irrevocable damage to a vibrant community of researchers, the stakeholders they serve, the financial viability of Massey University, and the reputation of this and other New Zealand universities on a national and international scale.
We strongly believe that science at Albany is an important part of the scientific community of Massey and New Zealand, now and into the future.
We call upon Chancellor Michael Ahie and the University Council to:
- immediately withdraw the discussion document to minimise damage to Massey’s community, reputation, and income, and
- commit to restructuring the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) to ensure that all campuses are fairly represented.
Please sign on and leave a comment to support the scientists and students of Massey University, and the great work they do to develop and nurture the next generations of scientists and leaders, enabling them to discover and implement new solutions to the serious and myriad future challenges of our nation.
- Massey University Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa (MU) is one of New Zealand’s leading educational institutions, with campuses in three cities in the North Island: Manawatū (Palmerston North), Albany (Auckland), and Wellington, as well as distance-learning. MU is managed by Vice Chancellor Prof. Jan Thomas and a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) with 12 members, one of whom resides in Auckland.
- A College of Sciences discussion document was released on Monday 24th February 2020, proposing to discontinue all natural sciences programmes at the Albany campus, including Chemistry, Mathematics, Statistics, Zoology, Ecology and Sustainability, Marine Biology, and Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry. The Albany campus will retain Computer Science (CS) and Information Technology (IT), which will then be isolated from the other sciences. CS and IT, among others, will be discontinued from the Manawatū campus.
- The School of Natural and Computational Sciences (SNCS), based entirely on the Albany campus, will cease to exist under the proposed changes, despite ongoing growth in student numbers. The Albany campus is located in a prime position on the North Shore of Auckland, which, along with Northland, comprise the fastest growing regions in New Zealand and have the greatest projected future growth trajectories.
- SNCS is a productive, diverse, world-class research institution. We punch well above our weight in terms of research outputs, prestigious awards, and external funding, such as Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden grants and Rutherford Discovery fellowships. View a brief summary of some of our activities here. These successes are ignored by the document. There can be no rational justification for disbanding this successful group of researchers.
- The financial numbers that have been used to justify proposed changes are flawed. For example, the costs of large and expensive facilities have not been included in the budgets of certain selected schools within the College of Sciences. There are also several instances of income generated by SNCS being erroneously attributed elsewhere within the College.
- Even by the documents own numbers, SNCS currently ranks second out of the six Schools in the College of Sciences for teaching margins and shows strong growth. It makes no fiscal or logical sense to disrupt and halt the teaching and research sectors of the University that are growing and contributing strongly, particularly those located in the growth centre of the country.
- The timing of the release of the discussion document was regrettable. It happened on the very first day of a newly restructured Bachelor of Science programme, which culminated five years of work by staff across campuses, at the behest of the SLT. Much of this new programme would be scrapped if these plans were to go ahead and many of the staff that were integral to its design would lose their jobs. National and international students have uprooted and moved to New Zealand’s most expensive city to take part in these programmes, only to find out on their very first day that their programmes might be axed. This shows an incredible lack of duty of care to students and their families. According to the document, the timing was “carefully considered” (item 1.2.5).
- The Discussion document claims to be a document for discussion, and not a proposal for change. If this were indeed the case, then it would not have been released before appropriate internal discussions had taken place involving Massey’s academic staff. The document’s release has damaged Massey’s reputation locally, nationally, and internationally. It has also negatively impacted the relationship between academic staff and SLT. The lack of trust displayed by the release of this document, which has clearly been constructed after a long and concerted effort, yet with no input from academic staff, implies that SLT consider academic staff and their views as being inconsequential in the development and implementation of important strategic decisions that will dramatically affect the future of Massey University, its mission, its programmes, and its challenges. The document must be withdrawn and the SLT must commit to change if the university wishes to regain the trust of staff, students, the nation, and the world.
- A letter from Massey University's student associations on the big changes, job cuts, and forced student transfers occurring at Massey (aka 'digital plus')
- Some comments by leading New Zealand researchers:
- “Folks, this is not a ‘grumpy academic’ story. It is the unconsulted, wholesale gutting of a key part of the nation's science infrastructure, with no visible thought given to the needs of students or the stability of our research environment” -- Prof. Richard Easther, Auckland University
- “I am sure there is a better solution that will achieve the desired financial outcomes, while also maintaining the significant national science capability established at Massey Albany.” -- Prof. Neil Gemmell, University of Otago
- “This is shaping up to be the biggest blow to the New Zealand science community in a generation.” -- Prof. Shaun Hendy, Auckland University
- “The proposal to dis-establish marine biology (and, as I understand it, science in general) at the Albany campus of Massey University is a disaster, both nationally and for Massey itself. In short, the proposal [...] is bad – catastrophically bad – for New Zealand science.” -- Dist. Prof. Hamish Spencer, University of Otago
- Some recent news articles:
- Massey shake-up: Top scientist tracking coronavirus could be axed
- Massey marine scientists facing axe: 'We feel betrayed'
- Massey University: Students slam proposal to axe science from Albany campus
- Massey University scientists vow to fight job cuts, student upheaval
- Massey University proposes axing science at Albany, Auckland - 400 students affected
- 'Risky changes' - Massey shake-up alarms NZ scientists
- Scientists fearing for jobs amid Massey shake-up
- Big changes to Massey’s college of sciences in university restructure
- Student body not consulted over Massey restructure
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