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University sees 2020 surplus of over $100 million, increased student revenue

Spending on consultants increased by $4 million, compared to 2019.

The University of Sydney’s latest financial statements reveal that it recorded a surplus of $106.6 million in 2020, despite previous fears surrounding the financial impact of COVID-19.

USyd’s 2020 Annual Report, released last Monday, explained that this surplus included “quarantined items” that cannot be spent on day-to-day operations, and which must be used for specific purposes. These include research grants, philanthropic funds and investment funds for specific capital projects. 

Excluding these items takes the figure down to an underlying deficit of $2.2 million, consistent with a previous all-staff note from Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton which said the University’s finances were “far better than expected.” The University overall took in $2.644 billion in revenue in 2020.

A breakdown of USyd’s statement of financial position. Source: University of Sydney 2020 Annual Report

The latest figures put pressure on USyd to explain ongoing cost-saving measures (such as proposed cuts to Theatre Studies and Studies of Religion departments), with some staff members questioning whether USyd’s finances are “really in crisis.” Projections from March 2020 were as dire as a loss of $470 million, due to universities being excluded from JobKeeper and the closure of international borders.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the Annual Report also showed that revenue from international students increased by 4% (to $1.105 billion), despite most international students studying offshore last year. This is a substantially smaller increase than 2019, which saw international student revenue jump by 20% on the previous year.

Revenue from the HECS-HELP program for domestic students increased by 3% (to $223.1 million).

USyd’s revenue from student fees. “FFPS”, short for “full-fee paying students”, refers to international students. Source: University of Sydney 2020 Annual Report

Elsewhere in the report, USyd spent $19 million on consultants in 2020, which was $4 million more than in 2019. Restrictions on engaging contractors and consultants remain in place as an austerity measure.

USyd’s insurer also paid out over $600,000 in workplace compensation claims, with psychological injury claims almost tripling. Student complaints doubled to 1282 total complaints, with the main issues being the transition to remote learning, technical malfunctions in online proctored exams, and eligibility for the University’s financial relief packages, particularly the Travel Ban Hardship Fund.