Plus Queensland’s universities: big spenders, small savers 

 Jobs freeze at WSU

There is a freeze on hiring at Western Sydney University. Short-term contracts are not being continued and vacant permanent positions aren’t being advertised. While nothing is announced word is filtering out and CMM doubts staff will not want to wait to learn what is going on until VC Barney Glover returns from overseas in a couple of weeks.


Big spenders small savers

Other than the usual outrage over vice chancellor pay packets, Queensland university financial statements for 2015 have not generated much attention, which given the amounts involved seems strange, especially the small ones. Given their turnovers the state’s universities are not exactly piling up surpluses to fund their capital requirements.

The University of Queensland is an enormous enterprise, with close to 6000 staff. Two figures standout, on the university’s preferred EBITDA measure it generated a surplus of $158m, up from $128m in 2014 on total revenues of $1.774bn. However post tax earnings were just $58m, making the net profit just 3 per cent. The staff split was 43 per cent academic, 57 per cent professional. Wage costs were up $32m on 2104, to $960m, reflecting the Enterprise Agreement increase. The six-member university executive’s TPV was $4.49m with Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj receiving $1.09m.

In contrast QUT’s revenue was $955m with its preferred performance indicator, the underlying operating margin at 2.9 per cent, down from close to 5 per cent in 2014. “The university is taking steps to ensure its long-term sustainability and has engaged an external consultant to assist in identifying areas for improvement in its systems and processes,” the annual report states. Increased outlays are attributed in the main to employee expenses. One staff member earned over $1m last year.

Griffith had an ok year. While revenue grew 4.42 per cent to $881m expenditure was up 5 per cent to $830m. “The movement was largely driven by the increase in employee related expenses of $20.5 million as a result of EB increases and FTE growth, a $3.6 million increase in depreciation and amortisation along with a net increase of $15.4 million in other expenditure categories, the Annual Report states. The university’s EDITDA was 13.7 per cent in 2011 and has declined every year since, down to 11 per cent in 2015. Management has set 10 per cent as a long-term base.The university paid VC Ian Griffith $979 000 last year, up from $892 000 in 2014.

At James Cook U business went backwards. Total revenue was down $30m to $526m, while expenses were up $11m to $489m. The university also had a tough year with staff, with a 13 per cent “permanent separation rate. Despite disquiet in the university community the report states; “results from latest JCU Staff Opinion Survey were distributed in 2015 via face-to-face feedback forums and electronic communication. The results highlighted a keen interest in improving leadership, and leadership capability, across the organisation. University-wide action plans have been developed to bring leadership in a sharper focus,” (CMM July 10). Vice Chancellor Sandra Harding was paid $951 000 last year, up from $927 000 in 2014.

The three juniors are all in expansion mode, and it showed in their figures.

The University of Southern Queensland had a boomer of a year, with a surplus of $81m on turnover of $369m, although $61m of the income came from taking over the University of Queensland’s former Ipswich campus. Staff costs were up $20m to $193m. Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas received a $614 000 package, up from $594 000.

The University of the Sunshine Coast, increased enrolments by 8 per cent, to 10 000. Despite this income was effectively stable at $216m. Expenses were up $13 per cent, to $201m, driven, according to the university by a 3 per cent wage rise and other staff costs. VC Greg Hill received a package worth $726 000, up from $667 000 in 2014.

Last year was CQU’s first as a dual sector institution continuing its transformation from an over-reliance on international students in the first decade of the century. Overall the university’s expansion is reflected in the figures, with total income from continuing operations of $359m just ahead of operating expenses of $344m. Overall higher education revenue was up 5.9 per cent with expenditure, ex VET costs, up 10.9 per cent. VC Scott Bowman was paid $588 000 last year.

CMM ads10

Bolt from blue sky

According to CSIRO, “lightning is three times hotter than the sun,” (via Twitter). Isn’t this the sort of blue-sky research fact that no longer fits organisation’s announced emphasis on “delivering technology-enabled innovation”?

Pre-emptive petition

That the Office of Learning and Teaching will go in the budget with no successor organisation established, as promised  by the feds, first predicted in CMM April 7) is now all but universally accepted. But certainly not endorsed, with Angela Carbone, Director of Educational Excellence at Monash U launching a petition to save the OLT. “The OLT has promoted Australia’s cutting edge higher education internationally. It has also been instrumental in initiating, developing and sharing innovations in learning and teaching that have had a profound impact on our students.” She calls on the government to act on the recommendation in Ross Milbourne’s review of the OLT and create a successor organisation.

But if the OLT’s function is in fact finished expect government spinners to be quoting another bit of the Milbourne Review; ““the definition of impact is not well understood in the sector. Some of those in the consultation process regarded the government investment in learning and teaching as primarily a grants process designed to support their academic careers, and viewed this as the major outcome to be achieved. This shows up in those grants which had limited impact – those projects shared limited scope, weak links to student experience and a weak dissemination plan.”


Macquarie U IT staff fear spill

Long expected changes to IT staffing are underway at Macquarie University. While there are no net job losses expected all 60 or spots are being spilled and there is a widespread concern that some staff will not be placed. IT at Lighthouse Land is not a happy place. Last year a staff survey produced scathing reports on dysfunctional structures and processes (CMM August 28)

Turnbull in the China shop

It wasn’t just the AFL which won from Malcolm Turnbull’s determination to combine two themes of his election campaign, innovation and trade with China. The UNSW will house a $100m Australian-China technology precinct and the feds have kicked in money for six consolation prizes. There is the Australia-China Joint Centre of Grains for Health at the University of Adelaide, in partnership with Shanghai Jia Tong U. Monash and Soochow universities are working on dairy manufacturing. Melbourne U and the Chinese Agricultural U will combine to study soil resilience for sustainable food production. Swinburne U and the First Institute of Oceanography will model ocean climatology. The Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Oceanology will work on data modelling for coastal pollution solutions. And the University of South Australia will cooperate with Central South U on chemical and mineral sensing for processing in mines.

All up there is just $10m over four years for all the projects, but in terms of diplomacy and elections it’s the signal sent that counts.

As for the footy, the PM’s announcement that Port Adelaide will play a competition game next season against a yet to be decided team (the Marginal Seat Marvels?) in China  is surely only the start. Given the number of universities with AFL affiliations it can’t be long until one is funded for a China-Australian Football research centre.

Exiting the Academy

Just in time for the media budget blitz Bella Counihan is moving from the Academy of Science to join Misha Schubert in the Universities Australia media team. Ms Counihan is replacing the long serving Patrick Pantano. This is the Academy’s second big loss in as many weeks with executive director Sue Meek resigning “to focus on other professional commitments in the science sector.”


Higher degree starts stop

Amid all the innovation enthusiasm a reader points out that we have a problem with who has higher degrees. A chart buried in the ACOLA research training scheme report (CMM April 14) shows participation ratios for indigenous doctoral students are down marginally from 20120 and the figure for people from non-English speaking backgrounds dropped in 2011 and has not recovered. The report does not explain what happened and nobody CMM asked knows why, although one expert points out the figure for NESBs is still better than those for other equity groups.