UNSW Sports & Recreation services may see changes including a possibility they will be tendered to an external provider under a management change proposal being discussed by University administration.
Whilst the changes have long been rumoured, Neil Morris, Executive Director of University Services, told Tharunka the University had only begun a consultation process, and any decisions were a long way from being made.
He said one option the University was considering was a third-party gym operator because running the fitness centre and pool was not a university core business. “There are providers in the market place who do it as core business. They purchase equipment cheaper, have economies of scale and a depth of experience,” he said.
Whilst any decision may be some time away, Arc has already flagged their interest in the tender. “We are best placed to run Sports & Recreation as we understand student needs around affordability and are driven by non-profit motives,” Natalie Karam, Chair of the Arc Board, told Tharunka.
Karam said if Arc ran Sports & Recreation, it would increase the organisations presence on campus. “[Arc control] support the spirit of the Arc/UNSW Partnership Principles,” she said.
Nevertheless, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), began the process of collecting signatures for a petition against any redundancies the changes may bring. According to the petition, staff at Sports & Recreation had received notice that the paper proposed the redundancy of 28 permanent staff members.
Sarah Gregson, NTEU Branch President at UNSW, was skeptical about the University’s agenda. “While Morris says there has been no decision, it’s clear that this is the real thing on their agenda. Contracting out rings lots of alarm bells about the working conditions of staff, the knowledge and experience of the staff the contractor will employ, loss of tacit knowledge and skills, and the affordability of services for staff and students,” she told Tharunka.
In the 2010 Sports & Recreation Annual Report, Mark Lockie, General Manager, noted a small budget deficit of $44,000, but wrote that this included a net cost of $704,000 “in supporting club and university sport.” Taking this into account, the ‘commercial’ operations produced a $660,000 surplus.
President of the SRC, Tim Kaliyanda, said he had serious concerns that an external commmercial provider would only mean higher membership fees, lower quality of services and ultimately a poorer student experience at UNSW. “Students would resent being used as cash cows to furnish UNSW’s bottom line,” he said.
Rumours that the change paper was aiming to slash the Sports & Recreation budget were incorrect, said Morris. “The Sports & Recreation budget is set annually and fluctuates based upon need,” he said, whilst also pointing out a capital injection of $10 million in 2011 for the redevelopment of David Phillips Field.
National Union of Student (NUS) State Branch President Osman Faruqi said it was too soon to tell what proposals would be taken up, but sacking dozens of staff and outsourcing services wasn’t going to improve quality for students. “NUS is concerned about the trend, despite the introduction of the Student Services & Amenities Fee, of universities cutting back on student services,” he said.