19 March 2021

More job losses as health and medicine feel the pain of budget cuts at ANU

| Michael Weaver
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The John Curtin School of Medical Research

The John Curtin School of Medical Research building at the Australian National University will narrow its focus as part of the proposed cuts. Photo: Lannon Harley, ANU.

Further jobs will be lost while parts of the ANU’s College of Health and Medicine will be dissolved and research functions narrowed in a plan that has been labelled “painful” and “confronting” by the Dean of the School, Professor Russell Gruen.

The university’s iconic John Curtin School of Medical Research will narrow its focus, concentrating on biomedical research that produces revenue for the university.

Included in the plan are proposals to close the College’s neuroscience research arm, the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience, as well as further job cuts to save $103 million per year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Gruen told a university forum on Thursday (18 March).

“This means that some areas that are both strong and highly valued at the JCSMR cannot be continued, and painful choices have to be made,” Professor Gruen said.

“We propose to continue our core investment in immunology, genome science, cancer and related advanced biomedical technologies, and to strengthen the relevant clinical and commercial translation capabilities that are needed for revenue generation.

“It has been concluded that neuroscience research, while high quality, is not at a scale that enables it to be competitive with larger and more comprehensive centres of brain research elsewhere. Nor could it become so with the available resources in the foreseeable future.”

Daniela Espinoza Oyarce

PhD candidate Daniela Espinoza Oyarce inspects a human brain model at the ANU Research School of Population Health. Photo: Jamie Kidston, ANU

He said the College could no longer afford to pay all of its staff and plans to cut a further 11 academic positions and 12 professional staff, on top of the 30 positions that were axed from the college last year.

The university took a $200 million hit to its budget last year. The College of Health and Medicine’s budget for 2021 has been reduced to $54.7 million, almost $12 million less than the $66 million it forecast at this time last year.

What I’m talking about here are the recurrent operating funds, not the externally won research and contract funds, but those which pay most of our salaries, enable our teaching, and generally keep the lights on,” Professor Gruen said.

“There is no way of gilding this. Losing 10 per cent of our people is not something we want to do. We would not do it if we had a choice, and it is not something that, 12 months ago, we had contemplated having to do.

“It pains me, as your Dean, to stand before you and tell you this is what we have to do. But unless we were to have an additional source of $5 million or more per year, guaranteed in perpetuity that we could devote entirely to salaries, it’s what we now have to do.”

Another option was to stop teaching medicine, psychology, or population health altogether, but this was also deemed unsuitable. Consequently, the College of Health and Medicine is the hardest hit of the four ANU schools affected by the cuts.

These changes are aimed to make it possible to work within a smaller budget, continue to deliver the excellence that we demand of each other, and also open up opportunities for new sources of income,” Professor Gruen said.

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There are four parts to the proposal for the College of Health and Medicine.

Further to job losses, the second part is for the Research School of Population Health, the Research School of Psychology and the ANU Medical School to be joined in an expanded entity called the National Centres for Epidemiology, Psychology and Population Health.

The third part proposes that courses in medicine, psychology and public health be run as college-level programs, led by a deputy dean in each discipline.

The fourth part is to consolidate and reorganise service delivery within the college, such as those that provide services to the people of the ACT and southern NSW.

Professor Gruen also said the college would need to rename itself as the College of Health, Medicine and Psychological Science to better capture its disciplinary expertise.

The ANU College of Health and Medicine Change Management plan was released to the ANU community for consultation and feedback on 17 March and will be open for at least two weeks.

After a consultation period, a final implementation plan will be released.

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Reuben Durham8:04 am 21 Mar 21

Planetary Science is also gone now, and the College of Science has been swept by Central Finance to the tune of $38 million dollars. Yet ANU is buying land…

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