Students offered up to $30,000 over ditched course

AMANDA FISHER
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2010
Michael Burlace
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Dominion Post
ENGINEERING STUDENT: Michael Burlace.

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Students at Massey University's Wellington School of Engineering have been offered up to $30,000 compensation after a decision to close the school.

But they say they feel bullied by the university, which has treated them as "objects to be moved".

Two years into his specialised mechatronics degree, Michael Burlace, 27, says he has effectively been shown the door after Massey closed the school to cut costs.

The university announced the proposal, which affects about 50 students and 25 staff, in early November – as many students were leaving for the year – and gave one month for submissions and consultation before making the announcement last week.

Students have been asked to shift to Palmerston North or Auckland to complete their degrees, and offered between $5000 and $30,000 in compensation over the remainder of their degrees – but Mr Burlace said he had crucial employment and family ties in Wellington.

Students who do not agree to relocate receive no compensation.

"Massey hasn't at all acknowledged the professional or family responsibilities and commitments that students have – it's basically a view that students are completely malleable and can be given one month's notice to pack up and go, and it's those aspects that are really offensive."

To stay in Wellington, he has had to forfeit his degree, which will be cross-credited to a new major at Victoria University.

To add insult to injury, students had been told at various times since the school survived a proposed chop in 2007 that its future was assured, Mr Burlace said.

"That's been reiterated throughout the entire time ... we've had any fears allayed completely.

"For a university that has a marketing, a management and an accountancy school, for there to be such a complete failure on all three fronts ... is an absolute disgrace."

Students, who had had a stressful month worrying about their futures, did not feel their voices were heard by the university, he said.

"[The decision to close] was just a foregone conclusion.

"This obviously didn't come up overnight. They could have easily given us a year's notice and actually consulted [us]."

Mr Burlace, an A and B-grade student who would have been entering his third year of a four-year mechatronics engineering degree next year, said there was no equivalent course in Wellington.

Although he was optimistic about Victoria University, its course would not have the same mechanical and manufacturing elements.

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Alex Lloyd, Massey University Wellington Students Association president, said most students would move to Palmerston North, but some would commute or board for five days a week.

He was concerned about the effect of the decision on Massey's reputation and ability to attract students in future, saying that it set a worrying precedent.

"If they have done it like this once, they can basically do it again and then get away scot-free."

Though some students were looking at legal avenues, no-one was upset with the amount of compensation offered, he said. "If you forget about the decision, the offers were actually fairly reasonable."

Massey University has said closing the course would increase efficiency and lead to better education.

- The Dominion Post

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