Australian universities report record earnings despite pandemic

As staff reel from an austerity drive, Victoria produces its first A$3 billion institution

五月 3, 2022
fist full of Australian notes
Source: iStock

Monash University has set a revenue record for the Australian sector, earning more than A$3 billion (£1.7 billion) for the first time despite a year of pandemic privations.

Australia’s biggest university raked in almost A$3.2 billion in 2021, with a A$170 million boost to investment income and more than A$150 million in additional federal government funding easily offsetting a A$107 million downturn in international education earnings.

Monash has doubled the size of its business in a decade, increasing its earnings steadily since it pocketed A$1.6 billion in 2011. A revenue decline of less than A$50 million in 2020 proved short-lived, with the university’s income rising by A$246 million last year and producing a A$411 million surplus in 2021.

Institutional accounts from Victoria’s other comprehensive universities – apart from the University of Melbourne, which has not tabled its annual report yet because of delays in the state auditor general’s office – mostly tell a similar story.

All experienced significant declines in international education earnings but most nevertheless saw their bottom lines increase, mostly thanks to increased federal funding and improved investment earnings. Times Higher Education understands that Melbourne is likely to report similarly positive results.

All other Victorian universities apart from Monash managed to reduce their costs – mainly by cutting employee expenses, which fell by more than A$40 million at La Trobe University, more than A$60 million at Swinburne University and almost A$90 million at RMIT University.

RMIT converted its A$56 million deficit in 2020 to a A$117 million surplus in 2021, while Swinburne went from A$55 million in the red to A$41 million in the black. La Trobe remained in deficit, but its A$51 million shortfall in 2020 was cut by almost two-thirds.

Monash vowed to “continue prudent financial and other controls” despite its standout results. Vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner told staff that the university needed to “manage our finances” to cover an estimated A$478 million in research commitments and to “effectively deal with the challenges of reduced returning international student revenue”.

“We are well placed to adapt to the instability presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and the current geopolitical environment, which continue to have an effect on our complex operating circumstances. However, we will need to continue to exercise caution and restraint as we slowly rebuild to pre-pandemic levels of activity,” she said.

Professor Gardner promised to avoid further cuts to teaching or research “in the next two years of revenue decline”. Ben Eltham, Monash branch president of the National Tertiary Education Union, said that was the least she could do.

“Obviously we’re happy that there are no plans for a wide-ranging redundancy round, but why would there be? Monash is stupendously profitable. It’s made well over half a billion dollars over the two years of the pandemic,” he said.

Dr Eltham said that the university should hire more staff, reduce casualisation and ease workloads. “People are exhausted. Two years of the pandemic have left them absolutely shattered. There were 277 redundancies in 2020, justified on a projected deficit that never happened. Some of those positions have been rehired but many have not. Many of the professional areas are gravely overworked. The research office is dysfunctional, struggling to meet its reporting requirements because there’s such a backlog in the verification of publications.”

Monash’s annual report warns that further reductions in international student numbers are expected in coming years, and that expenses will rise as campuses emerge from “extended lockdowns and business disruptions”. The university also expects no repeat of one-off windfalls in 2021, including more than A$50 million from a shareholding restructure of IDP Education and a A$107 million share of the billion-dollar boost to research funding in the 2020 federal budget.

But Dr Eltham said that the need for austerity had passed. “This university has amassed a huge war chest. We’re not talking about husbanding our resources for a rainy day. We had a rainy day. The roof was fine. The sun’s out again.”



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Reader's comments (1)

Monash is still a Clayton's university.