VCs and union in united-front talks on saving jobs

University leaders are in crisis talks with the National Tertiary Education Union, as the system confronts a collective loss this year which could reach $15bn

 Who’s in: Charles Sturt U vice chancellor Andrew Vann is leading a group of VCs now in discussions with the union. He is joined by Margaret Gardner (Monash U), John Dewar (La Trobe U), and Jane den Hollander (UWA). Stuart Andrews, head of uni managements’ IR lobby, the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association is also there.

Professor Vann warned CSU staff yesterday that the chance of no job losses in the present crisis is “extremely unlikely,” and that there are now discussions with the NTEU at a “national level” to “support job retention.” He added he hoped for “clarity” on protecting staff by end June.

What this means: Observers suggest the timing and membership of this informal leadership group demonstrates the dimensions of the disaster they are charged with minimising. The vice chancellors involved are all pragmatists, well-connected to the government but also comfortable working with the NTEU leadership. That the union is said to be talking demonstrates an equally pragmatic approach. Federal officials will have their own internal critics who will argue hard against any concessions on jobs and conditions spelt out in enterprise agreements.

Why they are talking: Because both sides need to. There are no all-uni numbers, but yesterday system-watchers put the COVID-19 cost for all-unis this year in a $5bn-$15bn range, with job losses of 5000 to 15 000. Institutions need to be doing something before asking for government support.

Who will listen to them: Education Minister Dan Tehan is listening to a lot of lobbies just now, but an informal group that can speak for university leaders and workers and which place outcomes above ideology should have a particular appeal.

Who’s missing: The VCs are representative of most of the uni lobbies, the Group of Eight, Innovative Research Unis and the regionals but peak body Universities Australia isn’t there.