McCutcheon told staff on Tuesday afternoon that he proposed to cut 23.4 full-time equivalent jobs from the university’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.

In a statement on the university’s website, he said that student enrolments in the faculty had declined over recent years, and the number of academic staff relative to student numbers needed to be addressed.

Meanwhile, the TEU said the proposal to cut staff was justified on the basis that the faculty had fallen short of meeting an arbitrary performance measure.

Focusing on meeting these narrow performance measures has diminished the contribution the University of Auckland could instead be making to help the Government address the teacher shortage, the TEU said.

The union suggested that the university’s budget surplus of nearly $70 million could be used to prevent job losses.

According to the TEU, in a newsletter to staff shortly after the Government’s first Budget, McCutcheon cited Government efforts to reduce the financial barrier to education by offering a year of free tertiary study as a reason to expect more staffing cuts.

The TEU said this should sound alarm bells in Labour and trigger a rethink in how the Government talks about the fees-free policy.

The union cautioned that VCs like McCutcheon could be trying to pitch students and staff against one another by suggesting that the reason people are losing their jobs is because students are being better supported into education.

“We have a chronic shortage of teachers, and this is having a serious impact on our ability to give kids the best possible learning experience at school,” Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU, said. 

“And whilst we know there are many reasons for the teacher shortage, the Prime Minister’s efforts to address it certainly won’t be helped by Stuart McCutcheon saying [on Tuesday] that he wants to cut back on the very people we need to train the teachers of the future.”

Lynda Stuart, president of NZEI Te Riu Roa, said the cuts were indicative of a growing crisis in the sector.

“If we don’t take some bold steps now, we’ll be looking at classrooms of 40 children within a few years,” she said.

“We have to act now and stop this crisis from turning into a disaster for our students.”

Stuart said that high workloads and low levels of pay were deterring people from entering the teaching profession, as well as pushing current teachers out.

The recent Budget announcement of funding for another 1500 initial teacher education places was “putting the cart before the horse”, Stuart said, because teaching was still not regarded as an attractive career.

“Primary teachers and principals are currently in negotiations to renew their collective agreements.

“We’re asking for a 16 per cent pay rise over two years and more planning and assessment time so we have time to teach, time to lead and time to meet the needs of our students without completely burning ourselves out,” Stuart said.