by Tom Smith and James Guthrie

When universities propose cutting costs there is little mention of the number of actual people who will lose their jobs as distinct from the administrative convenience of “full-time equivalent” positions

This is particularly egregious given universities are supposed to be teaching the leaders of tomorrow who need great exemplars of ethical conduct. If universities for example, are using casuals as permanent employees to staff the same courses year after year they are making a wrong ethical choice, which may breach labour laws. It is time for university administrators to become beacons of ethical conduct, shining lights for academics, students and the public.

Practice in the Australian public universities is to convert all employee numbers into full-time equivalent staff (FTE) – which is convenient when the number of people who lose work is much larger than positions that are abolished. In Australian universities, casual workers were the first in the university sector to go with the pandemic, with reports thousands of professional and academic staff positions have already been, or will be, eliminated. There were an estimated 100,000 casual, part-time, administrative and research jobs in universities in December 2019 and mass terminations will irrevocably damage Australia’s capacity to teach, research and contribute to the community.

Department of Education Skills and Employment data on Australian public sector university staff and university annual reports disclose these as “full-time equivalent staff” number, not the actual number of employee bodies. How FTES is calculated is not discussed.

But information in university annual reports, charities commission reports, parliamentary evidence and other sources make it possible to estimate the number of people involved.  We use the University of New South Wales as an example to illustrate this.

In July UNSW announced a planned reduction of 493 FTE positions (CMM July 16) cuts planned, including around 260 forced redundancies (CMM September 16), accounting for around 7.5 per cent of staff. The reduction was to help cover a funding shortfall of $370m in 2021. The university also announced it would cut 25 per cent of senior management (16 to 12) in consolidating eight faculties into six.

In the 2019 annual report, UNSW discloses a total staff of 7200, 6700 full-time equivalent. This is only broken down into academic staff and professional staff.

Using the charities commission reports, we constructed the following table for UNSW indicating the number of individuals by employment class. In this case, the actual number of casual employers reported is 12,949, and the full-time equivalent staff is 6800.