AUSTRALIA: Top university slashes 220 jobs

The global financial crisis has struck one of Australia's leading universities with Melbourne University's shock announcement last week that 220 full-time equivalent academic and administrative staff positions would be cut following a A$30 million (US$25 million) decline in investment returns.

In an email to staff, Melbourne Vice-chancellor Professor Glyn Davis said the crisis had devastated investment returns. Davis said an ''economic response programme'' would result in 50 academic and 50 administrative staff taking voluntary redundancies while another 120 jobs would go by imposing limits on contract renewals, a freeze on hiring, and attrition.

Several faculties, including medicine, a college of the arts and music, land and environment, and economics and commerce would have to cut costs or revamp their structures to remain in the black, he said.

Davis has been responsible for a radical reshaping of Melbourne's curriculum with the adoption of a US-style graduate school structure. But this has led to fierce criticism from within the humanities departments as staff numbers were being heavily cut even before the latest startling announcement.

Professor Peter Singer, a world-famous professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor in philosophy at Melbourne, spoke out last week at the 65 job cuts that had already been made in arts saying the latest losses would make it difficult for Melbourne to live up to its ambitions of becoming an international institution.

"...because of the arts faculty struggling with its budget, we have seen one round of cuts after another, sapping the strength of areas such as philosophy and history," Singer wrote in an op-ed article in the Melbourne Age newspaper.

"Today's Australian university teachers are under far more pressure, not only to teach more students, but to publish more papers, and to write more time-consuming applications for research grants which they don't really want but which, if successful, will somehow demonstrate the value of their research..."

In the two years to 2007, Melbourne's endowment generated some A$100 million a year. But in 2008, the university lost more than $190 million as a result of the financial crisis and it now expects a return of $40 million in the next three years.

The National Tertiary Education Union said the "outrageous job cuts" had been announced during an enterprise bargaining period and were unsustainable. The relationship between staff salaries and the financial crisis was unclear, a union spokesman said.

''As a public university our staff are funded from the recurrent budget; we've never had a relationship with the rises and falls of the stock market as to how we employ staff.''