University of New England School of Law to merge with business and agricultural science

University of New England Vice-Chancellor Annabelle Duncan.

University of New England Vice-Chancellor Annabelle Duncan.

The School of Law will merge under the University of New England’s academic restructure.

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The new School of Business and Law will sit within a larger faculty that includes agriculture, natural resources management and science and technology.

Deputy Head of Law Eric Ghosh said the move would “damage” the brand, signal a “downgrading of law at UNE” and risk the school’s “capacity to attract good students”.

“We believe the restructure will deeply damage the school,” Mr Ghosh said at a meeting hosted by the National Tertiary Education Union on Tuesday.

“The Vice-Chancellor has suggested an alternative branding, focussing on agriculture and serving the interests of non-metropolitan people.

“Such branding would be disastrous for law [because] our single biggest source of students is Western Sydney and other urban centres.”

Mr Ghosh said very few internal students pursued combined degrees with agriculture.

“The restructure also seems likely to strip away committees that support teaching, research and marketing,” he said.

Mr Ghosh said there had been limited consultation with university staff about the restructure.

But Vice-Chancellor Annabelle Duncan said the restructure was thoroughly communicated with staff.

“After the initial consultant’s report was tabled, staff were given several weeks in which to provide feedback,” she said.

Around 80 submissions were received, Ms Duncan said.

“The consultant’s report and the feedback were then assessed and a plan developed,” she said.

“This plan, and the process that led to it, was communicated to staff through an official UNE email, the Vice-Chancellor’s weekly blog and several face-to-face forums.”

Under the restructure, all 10 schools will dissolve into three broader faculties.

A move that is likely to “deliver the law school the worst blow it has suffered in its history”, Mr Ghosh said.

“Disciplines not having substantial links to non-metropolitan themes are also losing support,” he said.

“We strongly believe the restructure decision needs to be reversed.”

But Ms Duncan said the academic restructure would mainly impact administrative functions.

“Researchers should be minimally affected, if at all,” she said.

Academics have also indicated concerns over job losses.

However, Ms Duncan said there “have been no job losses identified at this stage”.

Earlier

University of New England staff have fired a warning shot at their superiors, saying they have “no confidence” in an academic restructure currently being proposed.

UNE plans to squash 10 schools into three faculties but Deputy Head of Law Eric Ghosh said the consultation process was “badly flawed”.

“The academic restructure will mean law and business will merge into a single school with agriculture and science,” he said at a meeting hosted by the National Tertiary Education Union on Tuesday.

“No cost benefit analysis was ever prepared.

“A proper process would respond to submissions made but instead there is no indication that our detailed submissions were considered.”

The Express can also reveal a leaked letter written by members of the university’s Professoriate, calling on the UNE Council to be more transparent.

“There does not seem to be any plan, nor has there been joint planning with the schools about how to manage the issues that will arise, and how to minimise the risks,” it reads.

“High-risk decisions are being taken without sufficient engagement, analysis and process.

“At a school level we are very aware of the risk of substantial losses of 2018 enrolments.”

The Professoriate suggests a full leadership team be put in place for the restructure and wants the Council to be more open with business cases and risk management plans.

Associate Professor from the School of Humanities, Richard Scully was on the restructure working party and received around 80 submissions from staff. But no one was sure why they were there, he said.

“There was a great deal of encouraging language,” he said.

“But it seems all we were there for was to collate, synthesise and put into usable form those 80 submissions. Whether or not we were recommending anything I’m not sure.”

The union will meet with the Executive next month to bargain a new collective agreement on behalf of the university’s employees.

The NTEU are also bargaining to abolish the trimester system which was introduced in 2012. 

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