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University finances “far better” than expected

Staff say that revenue shortfalls were exaggerated, leading to unnecessary cuts.

The University of Sydney’s financial and census results show that it is performing “far better” than management had expected.

In an all-staff email sent on Thursday, Interim Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton confirmed that the University experienced a net loss of $2.2 million in 2020 — a much stronger result than the $470 million loss forecasted in the beginning of the pandemic, and the $184 million shortfall still expected after a September reassessment.

Additionally, the University forecasts a $202.4 million revenue increase in 2021. This is due to census results showing that international and domestic enrolments were 20% and 4% higher than expected respectively.

Garton attributed enrolment numbers to “the efforts of colleagues across the University, and the willingness of our international cohort to study remotely.”

The results have sparked outrage from staff and students, who say that the University’s current financial position shows there was no need for widespread austerity measures.

“University management’s projections of dire losses for this year and beyond were exaggerated, calculated as they were against budgets that had projected significant revenue growth for the next few years,” said NTEU Sydney University Branch President Associate Professor Kurt Iveson. 

“We now find ourselves in a situation where we have a massive influx of students, an associated increase in revenue, and hundreds of staff being paid millions of dollars to walk out the door thanks to management’s ill-conceived redundancy program.” 

SRC Education Officer Madeleine Clark told Honi that the university has “more than enough” to keep their staff, and the fact that the University “made above and beyond their projected losses just reveals how cynical their cuts have been.” 

“University management has used COVID-19 as an excuse to fire hundreds of staff, cut courses, destroy student to staff ratios and overall degrade our quality of education.”

Garton also confirmed that the University ended last year with a $106.6 million operating surplus. This was attributed to $257 million worth of “temporary savings measures,” “stronger than expected international student enrolments,” and other income sources such as donations, investment earnings and research grants.

“[This] was a better outcome for the 2020 financial year than we could have hoped for given the challenges we faced last year,” Garton wrote.

In light of revenue being higher than expected, Garton said that “some of [the University’s] temporary saving measures will be eased.” This includes less restrictions on new recruitment and funding for research projects, as well as more spending on “repairs and maintenance.”

However, the University will continue to be “cautious” with spending. “[C]osts continue to rise and we remain short of our pre-COVID ambitions for 2021,” Garton said.

Restrictions on engaging contractors and consultants will remain in place, and other discretionary spending will “continue to be managed with local budgetary decisions.”