VU defends east expansion after west cuts

Victoria University is defending its possible takeover of a campus in Melbourne’s outer-east while cutting courses, closing campuses and shedding jobs in the western suburbs.

VU has set aside $3 million to investigate taking over Monash University’s Berwick campus, despite withdrawing from campuses such Sunbury and Melton in Melbourne’s rapidly growing west.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has questioned VU’s priorities, but the university’s management insists the “short-term pain” is necessary to see VU “better positioned in the competitive tertiary education marketplace”.

The situation coincides with an auditor-general’s report showing the cut-ravaged university last year lost millions of dollars.

VU’s operating budget to the end of 2014 was $423.7 million, with almost $16.8 million in savings from redundancies but with a $16 million operating deficit.

A VU spokeswoman said the university had incurred significant restructuring costs while making “radical but necessary changes”, such as cutting staff, in a move to improve cash-flow and remove debt.

NTEU VU president Paul Adams accepts the universsity has been heavily hit by massive funding cuts but questions the decision to cut staff and close campuses while looking to expand into the outer east.

“It looks to us as if money is being taken out of the western suburbs and going into the eastern suburbs. We think this is a misguided initiative.”

Mr Adams said the Victoria University Act required the university “to develop and provide educational, cultural, professional, technical and vocational services and, in particular, to foster participation in post-secondary education for persons living or working in the western metropolitan region of Melbourne.”

The VU spokeswoman said the university was investing $58 million predominantly into western campuses.

“We have plans to see old and under-used buildings, like the Melton and Sunbury campuses, substituted by new learning links – modern, collaborative spaces.”

Sunbury Residents Association (SRA) president Bernie O’Farrell said the community remained in the dark about VU’s plans for the Jacksons Hill site.

‘‘We still don’t know what the future use of the Sunbury site will be,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s several years since they’ve been used but they are still in very good condition.’’

As reported by Star Weekly last November, VU has been urged to keep the campus for education or community purposes after lodging an application to rezone part of the historic site, sparking fears of future residential development.

The buildings have been used for various activities, including a church and a gym, since VU closed its campus in 2008.

Mr O’Farrell said the SRA remained opposed to any plans to carve up the site. 

‘‘We want the buildings retained for future council purposes and/or educational facilities.’’