a pile of textbooks with geophyics and social studies and italian cut out
(Image: Archi Banal)

SocietyJune 23, 2023

All the university courses on the chopping block

a pile of textbooks with geophyics and social studies and italian cut out
(Image: Archi Banal)

Universities around the country – notably Victoria and Otago – are facing huge budget deficits. Hundreds of job cuts have been proposed, and that means courses are going too. Here’s the latest on which are set to be culled.

As Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Otago seek to fill their budget holes, staff have been presented with financial plans proposing mass job cuts and the cull of entire programmes of study. The Spinoff has been through them to bring you this list of all the programmes at risk. Note that these are proposals in various stages; accurate as of June 22, but may not be a complete list as the situation changes.

Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington

According to documents shown in yesterday’s presentation to staff by VUW vice chancellor Nic Smith, the university is proposing to disestablish 275 roles (both academic and non-academic) and create 46 new roles; a total reduction of 229 FTE (full-time equivalent) roles. Forty-nine of these – more than in any other area – are from the faculty of humanities and social sciences, nearly a quarter of their workforce. The school of business and government is also losing 33 roles. Based on this presentation, conversations with Tertiary Education Union (TEU) representative Dougal McNeill and other reporting, below are the programmes in the crosshairs.

The cuts are aiming to create $10m of operational savings each year. The full change proposal will be published on Monday; staff can make submissions until July 31 and final decisions will be announced on August 14 after a period of consultation. Smith, in association with the VUW student association and the TEU, has signed an open letter to the Tertiary Education Commission and education minister Jan Tinnetti asking the government for more funding.

a sunny day and the engrance to the piptea campus (rutherford house) at Victoria University of Wellington
Victoria University of Wellington (Photo: supplied)

Fully discontinued programmes

Secondary teaching





Design technology (postgrad)

Geographical information systems (postgrad)

Phased out (current students can complete their studies, but no more enrolments will be accepted – these subjects are being removed from larger programmes)

Tourism management 


Physical geography

Workplace health and safety

Masters of teaching (primary and secondary)

Graduate diploma in teaching (secondary)

Integrated into other programmes

Theatre (integrated with English literature and creative communication, the amalgamation of English and media studies)

Linguistics (integrated with applied linguistics)

Museum and heritage studies (integrated with art history)

Classical and jazz performance (integrated as music performance)

Retained as taught classes without research capacity 





Retained as degree programmes but with up to 50% staff cut and a reduction in available courses

Asian studies


Business administration



Commercial law

Design for social innovation

Design technology



Electrical engineering


Fashion design




Library and information studies

Information systems

Interaction design



Media design

Nursing and midwifery


Public policy

Renewable energy


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(Image: Getty Images)

University of Otago

Otago is reportedly forecasting an end-of-year $12.4m deficit; the university is attempting to make $25m in savings, with $12.8m of that coming from staff salaries. “There’s no particular student downturn,” Otago TEU co-chair Craig Marshall told The Spinoff. Student numbers have reduced by only 0.9%, but the university was expecting growth of 4.9%. So far, the only confirmed job losses are in a proposal to significantly slim the languages and cultures department; other areas have been asked for voluntary redundancies, which may impact which courses can be offered. The university has not made a full proposal of which areas may be targeted; Marshall said he expected staff would hear of the initial plan for voluntary redundancy next week, while other changes will be confirmed after a consultation period. 

Removed (to be phased out from 2025)

Asian studies

European studies (both replaced in part by the global studies programme)


Significant cuts




Spanish (all these subjects have the expected language proficiency of graduates reduced, and would no longer offer language diplomas, honours or masters) 

Voluntary redundancies impacting masters programmes

Science communications (downsized; programme incorporated into wider sciences) 

Peace and conflict studies (two staff lost; programme put on hold)

Administrative changes (degree no longer offered but no job losses; students can complete their courses) 

The bachelor of applied science will be absorbed into the bachelor of science. Majors within this – applied geology, computational modelling, consumer food science and molecular biotechnology – will be phased out.

Elsewhere in the tertiary sector

Massey University is making major cuts to its non-academic staff across its programmes; announced in April, 178 jobs are being restructured into 144 new jobs. It’s not clear if academic jobs will be next as the institution seeks to counter its deficit. Te Pūkenga, the national polytech, is losing more than 400 jobs, mostly in management, out of its approximately 10,000 staff; a student writing for The Spinoff earlier this week said tutors are resigning regularly. The polytech has some significant challenges as part of its ongoing merger, and academic jobs may soon be threatened too. AUT, which planned to cut 170 jobs last year citing declining enrolment, including of international students, announced in February that its redundancy plan was on pause for at least six months. 

Additional reporting by Madeleine Chapman

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