With the University of New England expanding to Tamworth, it has been the target of criticism from employees and the National Tertiary Education Union about its committment to Armidale.
Over the past two years a restructure at the Armidale campus has cut jobs, and the pandemic has kept many students away from the city.
At the same time, the university revealed its plans to have a campus in the neighbouring New England city, which they hope will have 10,000 students after a decade.
While the university's vice chancellor Brigid Heywood has reaffirmed their committment to Armidale when contacted by The Armidale Express, a branch vice president for the union at UNE, Craig Johnson, said their members were dismayed by comments their boss made in Tamworth last week.
Following the sod-turning, the ABC in Tamworth reported that Professor Heywood had told them that "Armidale looks very sad at the moment", and that the university, which is still Armidale's biggest employer, was not funded to be the economic engine of the city.
In the wake of the comments, Dr Johnson criticised the university's 2020 restructure, which included redundandcies as UNE cut $20 million in annual expenses.
When contacted by The Express about the comments, the vice-chancellor said UNE intends to remain an important driver of the economic flywheel of Armidale and New England into the foreseeable future, and that the restructure had been necessary to ensure UNE's financial sustainability.
"Workplace changes have been widespread across Australian universities as they address a swiftly changing operating environment," Professor Heywood said.
Dr Johnson said UNE had created hundreds of good jobs in Armidale in the past, but criticised what the university had done in recent years.
"We've seen the deterioration of work conditions through increased use of casual and fixed-term contracts that discourage people from establishing themselves and their families in Armidale as well as mass redundancies that have been followed by overwork, burn-out and good staff leaving the institution," Dr Johnson said.
"This undermines the university's role and impact in the Armidale community," he said.
But Professor Heywood said all businesses periodically revise their workforce design to address new realities.
"UNE works to balance permanent employment opportunities with the recruitment of fixed-term and casual staff employees to address time dependent business opportunities," she said.
Professor Heywood also defended the university's committment to Armidale.
"In the past year, the university has redeveloped the former Armidale Library to host NOVA, and has won major grant proposals related to mental health and drought resilience that secured millions of dollars of federal and state funding that will benefit the region," she said.
"Future Fit, UNE's decadal plan, was published in 2021, and STEM Q - UNE's prospectus for a regional STEM precinct, with Armidale at its centre - has provided a framework for stakeholder engagement with industry, business and government as well as the Armidale community.
"The university has received strong endorsement from these sectors for its approach, and support for UNE's role as a leading employer and critical agency for change," she said.
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