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Aus: unis warned to scale back expenditure

Top Australian universities have been warned that they need to scale back infrastructure projects and other expenditure in a report assessing the financial impact of lost international student revenue due to Covid-19.

revenueAt some universities, international student fees account for over a third of revenue. Photo: Pixabay

International students account for 26.2% of university revenue

Monash, RMIT, University of Technology Sydney, La Trobe, Central Queensland, Southern Cross and Canberra universities were placed in the highest category of financial management risk, while 13 other universities were considered to be at medium level risk and a further 18 at low-level risk.

“[We are] on target to save at least $9.8m this year alone”

While revenue in the Australian higher education sector grew by 260% from AUD$3.4 billion to $8.8bn between 2009-18, “international student revenue increased as a proportion of total university revenue from 16.7% to 26.2%”, with some universities seeing international student revenue account for almost 40% of income.

The report modelled risk levels based on an optimistic scenario (where borders reopen and student numbers return to 2018 levels by 2024) and a pessimistic scenario (prolonged travel restrictions and a drop in interest), with a 45% and 55% drop in international student revenue across the country next year respectively.

Universities told The PIE News they are working to decrease expenditure. Southern Cross University said it was facing a budget shortfall of up to $58 million over the next two years, with chancellor Nick Burton Taylor adding that it would be “improper and misleading” to suggest there would not be cuts and job losses.

According to the university, the football centre at Lismore Campus – which costs more than $500,000 a year to run – has been closed.

“Other measures and reforms we have underway are already on target to save at least $9.8m this year alone,” added vice-chancellor Adam Shoemaker.

Central Queensland University’s vice-chancellor and president Nick Klomp told The PIE that the university had “moved on from the financial issues affecting the Australian university sector”, despite the report stating the institution“has barely sufficient reserves to cover international fees losses” and predicts “losses of $72m and $180m… for the optimistic and pessimistic scenarios”.

“We were the first university to take strong and decisive action to recalibrate our ongoing costs to a sustainable level, in response to the impacts of Covid-19. We are now looking ahead to our future as a contemporary, student-centred university,” added Klomp.

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