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More than 500 courses cut from Massey University

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06 May 2024, 9:12 PM

More than 500 courses cut from Massey UniversityMassey University campus Albany.

The effect of deep cuts throughout Massey University outlines a stark statistic revealing the institution has cut more than 500 courses this year.

At the same time, it would not say what its 2024 enrolment numbers were, as the sector faced a funding squeeze with scant likelihood of a Budget boost later in May.

Last year was a tough one for Massey. It declared a deficit of $45.5 million and slashed courses and jobs, including major reductions to science.

The extent of that was made clear in a Massey academic board paper, which revealed 624 courses were "retired" this year.

Although some new courses have been introduced, the loss of courses was more than 500. Last year, 116 courses were "retired".

Palmerston North-based politics professor Richard Shaw had been vocal in warning that continued cuts would lead to what he called the academic equivalent of an ice age.

"I would stand by those comments in as much as we are still in a part of the process that is disruptive for staff, for students, for managers up and down the hierarchy," Shaw told RNZ.

"It's a distressing period of time for people. We're still roiling through those circumstances."

Shaw works in the college of humanities and social sciences. He said some staff there were competing against each other for jobs, while the number of courses would not be reduced - yet.

"We will have a smaller workforce and I think it's highly likely that from 2026 on we we will reduce the number of offerings of some of our courses.

"It may be that we don't lose significant numbers of courses, but we no longer offer them internally on two or three campuses as well as via distance."

Students made their views clear at a forum in Albany this week. Photo: Supplied / Niklas Polzer

The 624 courses cut this year included 434 from sciences, 79 from business and 59 from humanities.

Courses were cut and new ones added all the time, but this year's high number comes after 116 were retired last year.

Meanwhile, university staff were battling on in trying circumstances, Shaw said.

"At the moment the people I work alongside of, including people who are in the throes of losing their positions, are conducting themselves with considerable professionalism and good grace."

Josh Parsons, from Student Action Collective, was calling on Massey to be upfront about its strategy and where it was heading, given the extent of the cuts.

"It's 624 retired and 66 created, which means there's 558 courses less at Massey," he said.

"With a total course number of around 3000 that's over 1/6th of the courses at Massey. That's a sixth of the university gone."

Students were not being given the full picture about what was happening, Parsons said.

"The mood among most current students at Massey is to just keep your head down and hope your degree doesn't get cut out from under you, and try and make it out the other side so you can leave it all behind.

"I don't know what future students are thinking."

Massey's far from the only university that had faced financial pain.

The government had appointed an expert advisory panel to explore better ways of operating.

Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said the varsities were having to make calls about how to balance their books.

Whelan said he could not comment on Massey specifically, but spoke about the sector as a whole from his position leading the umbrella group.

"Right now, this is something I've never seen where government controls about 80 percent of university funding.

"Inflation since 2019's been 21 percent but government, perhaps realistically or fairly, has only been able to afford to increase university funding by 8 percent."

That left a massive gap between costs and income, despite a $128m boost last year from the then-Labour government.

"We just don't know when that relief's going to come along and we can read the same runes as everyone else.

"There isn't a lot of money floating around. We'd obviously love government to invest in us, but we fully understand this is not the environment when that's likely to happen, certainly in the next Budget."

Massey provost, professor Giselle Byrnes, said the university had a responsibility to reduce the size and scope of its academic offering to make sure it provided what was required, and in ways it could afford.

"Over time, student demand for and interest in qualifications changes in response to changing social, employment and industry demands.

"Closing courses - also known as papers at some universities - specialisations and qualifications that are no longer in demand is part of the normal cycle of academic management."

Byrnes said many courses had no or few enrolments in recent years, or were offered every other year, and Massey could no longer maintain "this broad offer over the long term".

Other courses on the list being cut had been joined together, such as "research methods" or thesis courses.

Those were basically placeholders for research projects.

Massey had 3209 approved courses. In 2023, 116 courses were cut and 54 added.

Massey declined to release its 2024 enrolment numbers, but last year it had 26,632 students.

Of those, 16,246 were classified as full-time equivalents.

Those figures have declined from 30,491 students in 2019, with 18,835 full-time equivalents.

A Massey spokeswoman said it had undergone significant changes, which skewed year-on-year enrolments patterns, so was not "yet in a position to provide contextually accurate enrolment numbers" for 2024.

It would only say it has surpassed its 2024 annual targets for new students by 6.5 percent, made up of an increase of 3.8 percent for new domestic students and 24.3 percent for new international students.