By Nikki Papatsoumas
Massey University’s renowned School of Nursing is in turmoil, with almost all its staff set to leave and students now threatening to move to other courses.
The school on Massey’s Wellington campus has taken a severe hit by the university’s recent decision to downsize on staff numbers.
Eight of 11 staff members of the School of Nursing will be leaving by mid-year 2018.
It also looks likely that some theory based papers will be taught online from next year to all students studying nursing across all three Massey campuses.
A student nursing leadership group say these major changes are leaving students with no other choice than to consider moving to other institutions or taking further action.
Staff redundancies to the School of Nursing have come after Massey University sent an offer of voluntary redundancy to all 1000 staff in its College’s of Science and Health at the end of October, in an attempt to cut costs by $11.1 million in 2018 and $15.7 million in 2019.
Third year nursing student Donna Bosch says students accept change is inevitable, but have concerns these changes will impact the validity of their nursing degrees.
“We are worried that the changes to the way we are taught and a reduction in clinical placement hours is going to impact negatively on the perceived value of our degrees.
“We are concerned our degree and all the hard work it has entailed is going to become less valuable.”
President of the Nursing Club Amelia Spring says she, Bosch and other student leaders have now written a letter to the school outlining their concerns about the lack of transparency around what the course holds for next year.
Some Massey staff have now requested to meet with Spring, Bosch and a group of other student leaders early next year.
“I’m not sure how you teach a people orientated degree with minimal face-to-face contact,” Spring says.
“We really develop a relationship with our lecturers because we are such a small cohort. I don’t feel engaged in a classroom when it is presented to me online.
“Their presence in the classroom will be irreplaceable and the pastoral support they provide will be sorely missed.”
Spring says many students are now considering moving on to other courses.
“The general feel is if these changes actually went ahead they would consider transferring – that is the general comment on social media,” Spring says.
Former Associate Head of the School of Nursing and Senior Lecturer, Jill Wilkinson, accepted voluntary redundancy of employment and has now finished up in her role.
She says she too has concerns about the future of the programme, and what it will mean for the 300 or so students on Wellington’s campus next year.
“I am devastated to be leaving but I have a fundamental clash of values with the direction the College of Health and consequently the School of Nursing is going in,” she says.
With eight of 11 staff on the move, Wilkinson says Massey will now look to hire staff members on a short term contract model in an effort to save the university money.
“They don’t want to appoint them on a permanent contract, that way there are no obligations.
“This is not a quality model. Who is going to be there to support contract staff into their new teaching roles?”
Wilkinson is also concerned by that the university is looking at imposing an Australian model of nursing education.
This would see a shift to online teaching for all papers.
She says offering some courses online would give students some flexibility around when they engage with a course, but an entirely online model of teaching was inappropriate for a nursing degree.
“I am the first to say we can do things differently, but change needs to happen in a considered managed process, and that is not what has happened,” Wilkinson says.
“Mixing it up a bit for students is not a bad thing, not all change is bad… but what I am really worried about is the support for students.
“When students are on clinical placement and face to face with people’s tragedies, that is really confronting and students need a lot of support.
“We are preparing them to be health professionals and they need to be supported into that role.”
Wilkinson remains positive and says continuing staff will go above and beyond to provide support to students beginning next year.
“I believe very strongly that the staff we have will do absolutely everything they possibly can to ensure they do offer a quality programme.
“But they will be doing it on a shoe string.”
The Massey at Wellington Students’ Association’s Nursing Executive for 2018, Megan Hammond, who will begin her third year of nursing in January, says with changes on the horizon students simply want answers.
“We don’t understand why there is so much secrecy and why we haven’t been included in decisions or discussions to do with changes.
“We want answers from the Pro Vice Chancellor who has responsibility for these changes. Every corner we turn they are shooting us down.”
Spokesperson for the Tertiary Education Union, Michael Gilchrist, says at the School of Nursing’s Wellington campus six academic staff will remain in 2018 to do the work previously done by eleven.
“Advertising has begun for some replacements – but a further three staff are slated to leave half-way through 2018.”
Massey’s communication’s director James Gardiner says a lecturer/senior lecturer position is currently being advertised. The right candidate will be appointed next year.
As well as this he says two new senior staff were appointed earlier this year.
“This year, the School of Nursing introduced the first year of its new Bachelor of Nursing curriculum, a process that has been planned by the school over several years in response to feedback from students, academic staff and external stakeholders and approved by Massey University and the Nursing Council in 2016,” Gardiner says.
“The purpose of the revisions has been to ensure that the Bachelor of Nursing programme responds to the changing needs of the health service sector and, in doing so, remains a leader and national trendsetter in nursing education and ensures its graduates are well prepared for challenges developing within health care settings and contexts.”
Gardiner says in years two and three of the programme, two of the non-clinical courses will change to a “blended delivery format”.
He says this will provide a more student-centred approach to delivery and will allow for use of technology to enhance learning options and learning styles.
“The School of Nursing will continue to revise its qualifications in order to ensure the best possible use of teaching staff resources and technologies that provide high quality, accessible, contemporary programmes designed to provide an excellent student experience.”