The multinational stock exchange-listed education provider Navitas is again in the firing line after implementing cutbacks that have angered staff and students.

Navitas, which trades as La Trobe Melbourne and provides alternative pathway courses into bachelor degrees at La Trobe University, made substantial changes to its intensive English language courses for overseas students in 2015.

The changes, which came after management refused to consult with teachers about its plans, result in a one-week loss of classes in a 10-week English course, along with larger class sizes – breaching student to teacher ratio requirements.

Branch president of the NTEU Ramesh Presser told Red Flag that the decision was all about cost cutting – “a 10 per cent reduction in teaching costs”.

Presser explained that the cuts “have led to more students failing and decreased student experience”.

Teachers have lost out through reduced hours for casuals and being forced to achieve the same learning outcomes in less class time.

Although staff are angry, they are not surprised; standards have been steadily eroded since La Trobe University privatised the college in 2010, and Navitas took over.

In 2014, staff held a full-day strike, several half-day strikes and stop-work meetings, and implemented work bans as part of a campaign to defend long service leave and redundancy payments and stop increased casualisation.

The latest cuts were implemented before the new collective agreement was signed in May 2015. Now, the NTEU has lodged a complaint with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, citing Navitas’ failure to comply with a number of minimum standards for English language courses of this type. 

Staff have been independently monitoring the impact of the cuts with a survey that 300 students have completed so far. Presser says that 70 percent of students want more time in the classroom with their teacher.

But the NTEU is not holding its breath on the prospects of the government regulator resolving this dispute. Staff have just sent an open letter to management outlining their concerns.

It will take more action from staff and students to defend their work and study conditions. Presser believes the real problem is the privatisation of education where private providers “can ride roughshod” over national standards while the regulator is unable or unwilling to act.