No relief from the red in NSW uni financials

Annual reports for NSW universities in 2023 are tabled in state parliament – among the boundless blather there are three KPIs that really matter – domestic student numbers, international revenue and staff costs.

With local growth flat last year and showing no signs of substantial improvement this yaer, most universities need a lift in international revenue – which may be short-lived, if the Commonwealth caps places. But wherever it comes from, there will be a need for more money, to fund baked-in rises in staff costs.

A note on this account: FC reports underlying financial results where provided. This means no shock-horror or hooray! (depending on one’s point of view) headlines. But stripping out one-off results provides a sense of the continuing state of universities fortunes. 

Charles Sturt U: explains “the cost of living crisis and low unemployment rates” had an impact on enrolments. Overall student fee income (as distinct from Commonwealth Supported Places) was down $4m to $41m contributing to a $73m net operating deficit last year (on $497m from continuing operations). This compares to a $60m loss in 2022. The biggest expenditure increase was employee expenses, up $40m to $345m. EFT Staff numbers grew year on year from 1932 to 2087 and there was a new enterprise agreement.

Macquarie U:  The number of domestic undergrads declined by 1,400 in 2023 on the previous year, to 33,800 but internationals increased by 17 per cent to 10,180, including MU’s pathway college and offshore programmes. Overall income from fees and charges was up 3 per cent. It was enough to increase revenue from continuing operations nearly 7 per cent, to $1.17bn.

Employee costs were down marginally to 56 per cent of total but increased by $46m. With investment losses, however staff outlays drove a 10.7 per cent increase in overall expenses, on a 4 per cent increase on FTE numbers, to 3585. Overall the consolidated university account made an $81.5 net loss, nearly $50m worse than the negative net result for 2022.

Southern Cross U: reports close to a $5m operating loss on $317m in revenue, “largely attributed to the slower than  expected return of international enrolment.”  However fees from international students were up 18 per cent to $71m.

Overall student headcount was 17,700, up on 17,300 in ’22, “notwithstanding” soft domestic demand.

The loss, a $2.2m improvement on 2022, is also attributed to consulting fees and “higher employee related expenses.” Staff costs were up $25m, to $177.69m with FTE numbers growing 7 per cent to 955.

University of Newcastle: The bad news is that Commonwealth supported and fee paying domestic student EFTS were down 6 per cent and 7 per cent on 2022. The good news is that international numbers  were up, 19 per cent on heads and 20 per cent on revenue, to $114m. However they still only accounted for 13 per cent of total student EFTS.

Total revenue was up 11 per cent, to $868m but costs increased 6 per cent to the same amount. Staff costs were up 9 per cent, to $490m, driven by pay rises and a small increase (40) in headcount.

University of New England: the “parent entity” reports teaching revenue of $227m, nearly $4m up on 2022, but otherwise lower than every year since 2019.

In contrast, the 2023 payroll, $204.7m was the highest from 2019. The university reports an underlying surplus of $8m but a net loss after abnormal items, depreciation and financing costs, of $58.9m.

Total employee costs for the parent were $211m, 2022:$1191m) and for the consolidated organisation, $227m, up from $206m last year.

University of New South Wales: the around-the-country decline in student starts was not an issue at UNSW. New students were up 17 per cent on ’22 and 5 per cent higher than pre Covid 2019. 

However, the problem for perceptions of a dependence on offshore arrivals, is that half the 20,000 starts were internationals.  Receipts from student fees (admittedly not all internationals) and “other customers” was $1.37bn, way more than the $1.22bn in grants from the Commonwealth.

Total employee expenses were $1.45bn, up from $1.36bn in 2022, on big growth in staff numbers (presumably casuals) to 7,588 heads (6,936 FTE), as of March, up from 6,516 in 202.

Overall, the university had an underlying loss of $172m, up $54m on ’22, attributed to “a growth in operational activities.

University of Sydney:  there were 24,600 domestic undergraduate students last year and 15,000 internationals but 16,000 of 28,000 postgraduates were from offshore. Overall international student fee income was stable, up 3 per cent on 2022 to $1.45bn – accounting for 78 per cent (correct!) of total earnings from students.

Operating revenue was up 17 per cent, to $3.418bn but the underlying margin was a $9.4m loss, a big reverse on $216m last year which was driven by positives, including one-off Commonwealth Covid assistance.

A swag of the $448m increase in overall expenses was a 16 per cent ($252m) hike in employee benefits, to $1.78bn. This was driven by a 6 per cent increase in headcount (mainly academics) to 9051 but pay rises under the new enterprise agreement, “sector-leading salaries and conditions” which started in August will have had an impact.

UTS: Domestic student revenue was up 4 per cent, but while there was a 14 per cent rise from internationals, but it was still 11 per cent lower than in pre-Covid 2019. Revenue was up $100m to $1.1bn for an underlying deficit of $84m.

Employee numbers were up around 6 per cent, (continuing staff, “actual persons” grew 200 to 3648 and casuals as FTE were up 40 to 745). But total employee expenses were up 12 per cent $728m, up from $643m. A new enterprise agreement kicked in, May last year.

Last year’s annual report, predicted a surplus in 2024, this year the prediction is 2025.

University of Wollongong: International student revenue was “still well below” pre-Covid, although it was 30 per cent up on ’22. Income from domestic students was 1 per cent higher. Employee costs grew nearly 12 per cent, although the number of positions was up 4 per cent – there is no mention of casual staff numbers.

The “university parent entity’s income was down nearly $20m on 2022 and expenditure up $67m, for a headline loss of $39m. However with abnormals stripped out the underlying operating result is a $1.6m underlying surplus. The university itself has an underlying deficit of $15m on $820m

Western Sydney U: Overall student load was stable because PGs increased by 22 per cent. UG numbers were down nearly 6 per cent and at 26,570 are the lowest of all reported years back to 2018. However there is international growth in the pipeline, with a 21 per cent increase in commencements last year on 2022, to 3,600. 

Total income was $972m, up $90m on 2022, mainly due to a big improvement in investment income for a net loss on continuing operations of $142m, up from a $10m loss in 2022. Much of this came from a loss on asset sales, and increased borrowing costs but despite no significant growth in staff numbers employee expenses were up $45m to $532m.



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