Several departments and faculties are experiencing reductions in discretionary spending. Craccum talked to staff in the Faculty of Arts about how funding reductions are affecting Arts specifically.
Faculty of Arts staff members have expressed concerns over the University implementing changes to course management. One staff member told Craccum they are worried about how budgetary constraints will affect the faculty over the next few years and says that “students should be concerned.” The staff member says the University aims to increase the staff to student ratio from what they believe is currently 1:21 to 1:27.5 and reduce discretionary spending. “We have been told to reduce contact hours next year, so they don’t have to spend so much money on Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs).”
Martin White, an adviser of Academic English studies, shared similar concerns. “One trend which I am disappointed to see is the steady increase in class size motivated by revenue concerns rather than best pedagogical practice.” White says the University has asked staff to consider new approaches to delivering tutorials. “In a move to counter any actual budget cuts in the future, we have been asked to look at implementing blended learning starting next year.”
Ethan Cochrane, Convenor of Anthropology, says there has been a reduction in the number of GTAs. “Over the last five years, discretionary spending has declined, and there is less money to spend on GTA support.” A stage three class Cochrane teaches previously had a GTA run one of two tutorials. Now Cochrane runs both tutorials. “Funding changes have changed tutorial structures and how students learn. We’re trying to create Anthropology graduates with less resources than we had previously.”
Cochrane says blended learning is an approach that responds to new ideas about how students learn best. Changes to the way courses are being run is not necessarily due to budget cuts, and that these decisions are not revenue-driven. “Universities are not in the business of making money.” He assumes the University has made these changes for efficiency and similarity across faculties and disciplines. However, he questions whether Arts requires a different approach than other faculties. “My colleagues around the world are facing similar issues, and it’s not just COVID inspired. COVID has just made some of those issues come to the floor.”
Natalie Dolan, a social events officer of The Arts Student Organisation (ASO), told Craccum that “there is a history of these cuts happening.” “It’s very easy to get indignant in Arts as we’ve traditionally felt like we’re being ignored. Our student association and advocacy hasn’t always been as strong as it currently is. But I do think there is definitely a tradition of STEM subjects, in particular, receiving more donations and thereby given higher priority by the University.”
As a graduate teaching assistant (GTA), she is concerned about tutorial size or courses no longer having tutorials. “Previously, almost every class would have a 20 to 30 person tutorial. As the years have gone on, tutorials have turned into discussion hours, and those discussion hours are now no longer being held primarily by tutors but by lecturers.” She says limiting GTAs means accessible lines of communication for students are closed off. “GTAS and tutors are meant to be facilitating more complex and nuanced discussion from a different point of view. They can be a more approachable person for when you have questions to go to.” She also suggested reducing contact hours may result in lower grades, with less comprehension and understanding gained with the absence of nuanced discussion.
Dolan says that with the lack of international students, all departments’ faculties are facing cuts. “They’re trying to make cuts where they can. While it is understandable that Arts is an easy place to cut, it does have a massive impact on the Arts community.” She says reducing teaching staff additionally affects graduate students because it takes away opportunities to go into teaching or academia.
She says Arts will continue to be a subject offered at the University but expects the faculty to experience significant changes. “If you look at where Auckland Uni sits in the world rankings, one of the reasons we are in the top 100 universities is because of the strength of our Arts. People will always gravitate towards those subjects. There will always be space for Arts, but the quality and desirability of it as a stand-alone subject is at risk.”
Dolan emphasised the dedication of the Faculty’s staff to help students. “Those who are lucky enough to be employed by the Arts are doing the best they can. The staff in the Faculty are troopers, they are doing so much great mahi, and there are so many resources that they are trying to make available.”