Universities Down Under much gloomier on financial prospects

Institutions in UK, Ireland and Canada much more optimistic about post-pandemic outlook than counterparts in Australia and New Zealand

April 28, 2022
Australian dollars cut with scissors
Source: iStock

Universities in the northern hemisphere appear more upbeat about their prospects for financial recovery post-pandemic than those in Australia and New Zealand, according to a study.

Four in five (81 per cent) chief operating officers (COOs) working in institutions in the UK, Canada and the Republic of Ireland who took part in a recent survey anticipated similar or better financial performance in coming years compared with the period before the pandemic, while only 54 per cent of their colleagues in Australia and New Zealand agreed.

Forty-six per cent of COOs Down Under projected worse financial performance than pre-pandemic years, compared with only 18 per cent in UK, Canada and Ireland.

Report writers Nous Group, an international management consultancy, attributed the geographic divide to differing Covid-19 prevention policies, with Australia’s and New Zealand’s stricter border controls impacting international student numbers for longer. The survey of more than 70 COOs was conducted before it was known when these restrictions would be fully eased, but since their lifting numbers have been slow to recover.

The research found that universities were using a range of strategies to recover their financial positions. Expanding international student intake was the most popular approach in the UK, Canada and Ireland, cited by 61 per cent of these COOs. In Australia and New Zealand, the figure was only 38 per cent, with senior staff there more likely to seek improved efficiency in support services (54 per cent) or to axe low-margin courses (46 per cent).

There was little appetite for outsourcing among the COOs, with some saying that it had actually been more expensive to outsource services in the past.

The wide-ranging survey, published on 28 April, also found that campus investment had fallen during the pandemic, with 45 per cent of those polled saying they have spent less in the past two years.

Recruitment was cited as a major concern, with more than half those surveyed (54 per cent) reporting being able to fill priority positions only half of the time. The COOs identified IT experts, data analysts and business analysts as the hardest to find.

They are looking beyond the sector to try to fill positions, but negative perceptions about higher education as an industry to work in were reported as a major obstacle to recruitment.

Zac Ashkanasy, Nous Group’s global head of higher education, said: “The financial performance of universities is a two-speed story, dictated by geography and driven by the timings of Covid-19 as well as the responses of national governments.

“In the UK, COOs expect to see financial stability return quickly. However, in Australia and New Zealand, the pandemic hit just as international students were due to come to campus and governments instituted tighter border controls than almost anywhere in the world. Consequently, COOs in the southern hemisphere expect the financial rebound to take longer.”



Print headline: Financial hope in north but gloom Down Under

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