SCU Mismanagement claims an 'enterprise bargaining stunt'

UNION claims Southern Cross University has mismanaged its finances are a "stunt" aimed at gaining leverage in enterprise bargaining negotiations, Vice-Chancellor Peter Lee has said.

The National Tertiary Education Union has asked the NSW auditor-general and ombudsman to investigate the university, claiming SCU depleted its cash reserves and borrowed millions for new buildings at the Gold Coast and Lismore campuses - at a time when "enrolments were falling off the cliff".

The union claims it has been frozen out of talks with the university and that a chronic, tense relationship had developed between it and the university over unanswered questions about the university's expenditures amid falling student numbers.

The university sector is facing a period of significant change and SCU is not alone in taking action to prepare for a new higher education environment

- SCU Vice-Chancellor Peter Lee

"Even last week I wrote to the chief financial officer to ask for a sit down with our financial experts... they never even acknowledge that letter," union spokesman Christian O'Callaghan said.

However, Professor Lee said the information NTEU was seeking was already in the public domain, and that a union representative had been briefed last week by the director of financial and human resources.   "The university has been transparent and open about its financial operations," he said. 

"The university sector is facing a period of significant change and SCU is not alone in taking action to prepare for a new higher education environment."

Mr O'Callaghan said the breakdown of the relationship between SCU and the union was "the exception rather than the rule".

One concern aside from job cuts was the $50 million Gold Coast campus Building B, which he said didn't have a car park, forcing the university to pay for parking at Gold Coast Airport.

We want to know what's the true financial state. They won't even acknowledge the disputes that we're raising.

- National Tertiary Education Union spokesman Christian O'Callaghan

He claimed the Gold Coast campus was a "legacy project" which was more likely to become a "white elephant".

Mr O'Callaghan also accused senior university staff of "denial" over SCU's financial situation.

"We want to know what's the true financial state," he said.

"They won't even acknowledge the disputes that we're raising."

The union has collected 2000 signatures in its petition to call for an independent inquiry into the university's finances.

Mr O'Callaghan said it had been planning to present the community petition to the university council meeting tomorrow, but was told the meeting had been moved off campus and it could not do so.

Professor Lee said Mr O'Callaghan's comments were part of a "concerted and targeted campaign" that had to be seen in the context of enterprise bargaining and that there was "no substance" to any of their claims.

"The university is audited annually, both internally and by the NSW Audit Office, which provides an independent and thorough report on all NSW universities and is publicly available... the NTEU's actions in calling for an independent enquiry can then only be seen as a stunt," he said.

He wouldn't confirm or deny if SCU was paying $1 million per year for car parking space at the Gold Coast airport, saying that it was a temporary measure and parking was being addressed.

He laughed at the claims that the Gold Coast campus was a "white elephant", saying enrolments had gone from 954 to 2981 students in five years. He also denied the university council meeting, scheduled for Friday, had been moved in order to avoid being presented with a petition.



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