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University staff rally at Parliament over proposed cuts

Members of the Tertiary Education Union protest outside Parliament

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Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

University staff gathered on the Parliament steps in Wellington today, chanting for more funding and less staff cuts.

Dougal McNeill, branch president of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) at Victoria University said the “awful events at Parliament earlier this year show the necessity of public education”.

Tertiary education budget cuts of $35 million are on the table for new mega-polytech Te Pūkenga, and Auckland University of Technology (AUT) announced plans to cut 170 full-time academic positions last month.

University staff were asking for an 8 percent pay rise to compensate for the cost of living increase, and wanted to talk with minister of education, Chris Hipkins.

After University staff previously went on strike on 6 October, McNeill said, “We’re here to have a respectful conversation.”

Sixty TEU delegates from around New Zealand were joined by staff from Victoria University, Massey University, Whitireia and Weltec.

“The vice chancellors seem to be on a project of the slow destruction of the universities,” McNeill said.

Members of the Tertiary Education Union protest outside Parliament


Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Nicki Whilford, union organiser with Victoria University said, “Our members are just asking for what most other workers in New Zealand have got this year – a cost of living increase.”

She said the top tutoring rate at Victoria University was lower than the bottom tutoring rate at Massey University.

“We have to keep going because we’re not getting back across the table what we need.”

Labour MP Deborah Russell accepted a petition and open letter from the TEU and university staff.

Members of the Tertiary Education Union protest outside Parliament


Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

“I’m happy to advocate for better funding for tertiary institutions within the government,” she told the crowd. “[It] doesn’t mean I can promise it.”

Auckland MP and tertiary education spokesperson for the Green Party Chlöe Swarbrick said the foundation of the issues was the funding model, and it “has to change”.

Members of the Tertiary Education Union protest outside Parliament


Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

“[University staff] have been at the forefront of bending over backwards to make the education work for your students over the last two years.”

Julie Douglas, lecturer at AUT and president-elect for TEU said the government, as a stakeholder in public education, needed to step in and stop cost cuts.

An educated population meant a flourishing society, she said.

“We’ve got people who don’t turn up and set fire to things.”

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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