The school of chemistry at the University of New South Wales, Australia, is facing cost-saving job losses.

The school of chemistry at University of New South Wales, Australia, is facing cost-saving job losses in what some observers are calling a ’budget bungle’.

The school has been told to cut five of its 18 staff to save A$500 000 
(?206 000). The cuts follow an announcement in December 2005 by UNSW’s dean of science, Mike Archer, that the school of chemistry was facing an operating deficit of over A$1 million. The school’s salary bill was running at more than 120 per cent of income.

The RSC’s Australasian lecturer for 2006, Brynn Hibbert, a lecturer at UNSW, said the news has caused ’angst and misery’ within the school of chemistry. The school responded to Archer’s announcement by identifying immediate savings of A$100 000 that could be made by cutting casual teaching. But those savings could not be used to offset the salary debt, complained officials. 

Australia’s national tertiary education union are critical of the cuts, blaming them on a budget bungle. ’The university management has to explain how a school with above average success in gaining large research grants . finds itself in the situation where the university cannot afford to pay the salary of one quarter of its staff,’ said Anne Junor, academic vice president of the union’s UNSW branch.

A committee set to decide which five positions will be cut has been convened, and will report on 28 March.

Hibbert predicts that the loss of five staff will increase the teaching burden on the remaining staff by up to 50 per cent. Staff numbers in the school of chemistry have dropped in recent years, from over 40 in the late 1980s, to 18 today.

The cuts come a year before Australia implements its research quality framework (RQF), an assessment programme based closely on the UK’s research assessment exercise. Details of the RQF are unclear, said Hibbert, because the current minister for education, science and training, Julie Bishop, has only been in the position since January. Suggestions that the cuts at UNSW are related to the RQF were dismissed by academics at other Australian universities contacted by Chemistry World. 

Katharine Sanderson