Deakin's response to challenges of COVID-19 pandemic

Media release
25 May 2020

Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin has today told staff that after careful consideration of the NTEU's Australian Universities Job Protection Framework, the University would not be a signatory to the proposal.

In reaching its decision on 21 May, University Council carefully weighed the benefits of the NTEU framework, and its suggested temporary variations to Deakin's existing Enterprise Agreement, against proceeding with Deakin's initial response to the impact of COVID-19, as endorsed by Council on 7 May.

Professor Martin said Council resolved that Deakin would continue to implement its response to the impact of COVID-19, and not be a signatory to the NTEU framework, for four key reasons:

  • "We share with those who crafted the Framework a desire to have a strong, vibrant and sustainable university system in Australia. However, each University across Australia is in a different position, and this context must guide the decisions that are made. We are mapping out a future for our University that must consider not just 2020 but also the next 3-5 years," he said.
  • "Our Council is responsible for setting the overall strategic pathway for Deakin, and the Framework will constrain its ability to decide what is in the best short, medium, and longer-term interests of the University. That independent governance oversight has served Deakin very well in balancing the needs of now and the imperatives for the future.
  • "Our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is not going to be a V-shaped one. The approach we are proposing, combining debt and cost savings, will ensure that Deakin is in the best position to preserve as many jobs as possible in the medium term, rather than simply seeking to get to a notionally balanced budget over the next 12 months.
  • "We have an Enterprise Agreement that underpins the vast majority of employment contracts at Deakin, and we see no need to change this to enact measures included in the Framework such as stand-downs, forced leave, forced reduction of hours, across the board pay cuts of up to 15 per cent and deferral of incremental progression that we have no desire to implement."

Professor Martin said the impact of the pandemic meant that decisions made now and over the next 18 months would shape Deakin for a decade or more.

"What Deakin delivers matters, it matters to our students, our immediate local communities, the State, the nation and, through our many connections and networks, it matters globally, and it matters now more than ever," he said.

"I acknowledge again that managing 2020 and the next two to three years is about far more than money, but without a solid and sustainable financial position we will not be able to make the impact generating contributions that will be needed across our communities."

Deakin's operating revenue is estimated to fall by between $250 and $300 million in 2021. To manage the next three years, Deakin will adopt a budget strategy that has two components:

  • The first is recognising that the optimal navigation through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will require spending appreciably more than we earn over the next 18-36 months.
  • The second is the need to reduce budget expenditure appreciably through a systematic whole of University budget sustainability project.

Neither approach alone will work, firstly because although expenditure could be cut dramatically to match projected 2021-22 income, this would leave Deakin in a much weaker position to enable recovery, and secondly, that recovery is expected to take far longer than debt or reserve funding alone could cover.

"As a University, we spend 55 per cent of our total revenue on staff. While we will do everything possible to minimise staff impacts, we must look at our employment costs as well as continuing to minimise other expenditure to adjust to where we need to be," Professor Martin said.

"In-line with Council's decision, we will now proceed with our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes a new Strategic Plan, a balanced approach to reducing costs and debt and a phased approach to staff reductions.

"These measures will ensure Deakin continues to deliver for our students and communities while securing as many ongoing jobs as possible."

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