SHE'S been in the job barely a year, so Linda Kristjanson could be forgiven for feeling daunted - even overwhelmed - by the challenges she has confronted since becoming vice-chancellor of Swinburne University. Faced with large-scale redundancies, staff and student protests and a budgetary black hole, her circumstances could hardly be more stressful.
She has announced the closure of one campus and flagged plans to quit another. She will also cut loose Australia's only institute that offers a degree in circus arts.
Along the way, Professor Kristjanson has steered Swinburne through one of the greatest reforms to tertiary education in recent years when the federal government removed the cap on undergraduate places.
This combination of changes would rattle seasoned university executives, yet Professor Kristjanson remains remarkably calm.
''This is a business that never stays still,'' she says. ''I didn't walk into this job thinking it would be the status quo.''
Professor Kristjanson has been forced to reshape Swinburne's identity - taking it back to what she sees as its core of science, technology and innovation - as it strives to reconcile a $35 million cut in state government funding, part of about $290 million slashed from the TAFE sector.
She admits the funding cuts caught her off guard. ''We expected change but we did not expect the magnitude of change that was announced in May,'' she says.
Professor Kristjanson, who uses the careful language of senior management, insists the university has responded boldly to its predicament. ''If we think that we can just manage things with small incremental adjustments we will not be doing our job to position the university to serve our students and staff well.''
The university has announced it will shed 240 jobs through voluntary redundancies.
Professor Kristjanson says offering voluntary redundancies for TAFE and university staff is the most respectful way to slash jobs.
''I've been very clear from the beginning that this is not a TAFE issue. It's one the whole university needs to understand.''
Professor Kristjanson came to Swinburne in May last year from Curtin University, where she was deputy vice-chancellor of research and development. She has held numerous academic posts in Australia, Canada and the US. Professor Kristjanson completed her PhD at the University of Arizona, where she specialised in clinical palliative care research.
In its quest to focus on technology - particularly fields such as software engineering and robotics - Swinburne will stop offering hospitality, tourism and cookery TAFE courses.
It will move the faculty of design from Prahran to its main campus in Hawthorn.
Professor Kristjanson says the move will bring design students closer to those studying business or engineering, allowing them to share ideas.
She hopes the move will create more logical connections between courses rather than offering a disparate choice of subjects.
The university has accumulated an apparently disconnected grab-bag of courses since it was established 104 years ago as a technical school offering studies in carpentry and plumbing. Later it expanded into new areas, including television and chemical engineering. In 1992 Swinburne converted from a technical college to a university and within a few years it had expanded into five metropolitan campuses. It now has more than 23,000 students.
The university will now separate from the National Institute for Circus Arts based at the Prahran campus, although Professor Kristjanson says that plan has been in place since 2011. She says the university ''incubated'' NICA but it is time for the circus institute to be independent.
Uncertainty also surrounds the theatre courses at Prahran.
Professor Kristjanson has made it clear the university intends to leave Prahran although it has yet to make any decisions.
University of Melbourne associate professor Leesa Wheelahan says Swinburne was more than a repository for an odd collection of unrelated TAFE and university courses.
''It always specialised in various areas. Someone had to offer that sort of stuff and Swinburne did it very well,'' she says.
Professor Wheelahan says the state government's funding cuts have hit dual-sector institutes - those offering TAFE and university courses - particularly hard.
She fears the funding cutback will undermine the dual-sector model.
She says the reduction in funding means institutes can no longer subsidise expensive courses with money from previously lucrative subjects.
Students will have access to far fewer subjects as dual-sector institutes focus on courses such as apprenticeships that attract higher levels of government funding. ''This will narrow the type of institutions we have in Australia and that's a shame.''
The decision to close Swinburne's Lilydale campus prompted an angry rally last week. Student union president Mark Briers says he was shocked by the decision, which came without consultation.
The university had not considered student housing availability, the cost of transport and limited parking, Mr Briers says.
But Professor Kristjanson offers a calm defence.
''The myth that people will go to the university that's in their neighbourhood really needs to be challenged. We have students that come from as far away as Sunbury and study at Hawthorn,'' she says. ''What they're coming for is quality education.''