Victorian universities have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately

At Deakin University, its “Reimagined” programme will see the loss of around 220 jobs, in addition to around 300 lost last year (CMM September 1). Meanwhile, Uni Melbourne University has aplogised and announced the back payment of lost salaries for at least 1,000 casual academics, (CMM September 10)

In more bad news, the National Tertiary Education Union alleges RMIT has significantly underpaid casual staff over six years. Finally, La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor John Dewar announced in July that there would be a further 200 job losses, in addition to the significant staff cuts in 2020 (CMM July 15).

The Centre for Future Work, released recently and using mainly ABS data, found that so far in 2021, the tertiary education sector has lost 40,000 jobs (almost one job in five). Universities have suffered more job losses over the last 12 months than any other non-agriculture sector in the economy.  Most of those jobs (about 35,000) were lost from public sector universities.

A  previous report in CMM explored how many people lost their work in Victorian public sector universities in 2020, highlighting the inconsistencies in the different staffing numbers and categories disclosed and the lack of transparency in the supporting documentation. As proved below, the way Victorian public sector universities have constructed their 2020 employment data is messy.

But how are the numbers constructed?

Yet, it is essential to understand how the numbers are constructed if we are accurately to know how many university employees have lost jobs since 2019. The accounting for headcount has changed in several universities, and the way full-time equivalent employment is calculated is a mystery. Nevertheless, this same data has been used in public discourses about underpayment of wages, termination of employment and reduced working terms and conditions. It has become clear that this data is a social discourse to advance public sector universities’ interests and their vice-chancellors and senior executives.

To understand the numbers, we need to define what constitutes certain types of employees. For years now, public universities have employed many casuals for teaching, research and service activities. A recent High Court ruling on the definition of casuals provides an understanding of how we account for these, and the length of their contracts is now essential to determine if they can be offered more permanent employment.

Defining what a casual is, especially for university teaching, is vital for establishing headcount numbers, where generally casuals are employed weeks before class and up to two weeks after exams. Recently, however, several universities have avoided including casuals in employees disclosures because they now only count employees on the last payday in December rather than over the whole year. As a result, casuals are most likely unaccounted for in these university disclosures.

We also need to define what is a Victorian public sector university if we are to make sense of these slippery numbers. In Victoria, a public university is defined as a public entity (all other public sector bodies outside the Victorian public sector). In the past, Victorian public universities have followed the Victorian Treasury guidelines and especially Guidance notes for Financial Reporting Direction 29C Workforce data disclosures in the Report of Operations. This includes, “any significant rise and fall in employment levels within the reporting year, such as the employment and termination of a seasonal workforce, should be noted in a footnote to the table.” Casuals and headcount are defined as:

“A person employed by the entity who is subject to clause 25, Casual Employees – Loading of the current VPS Enterprise Agreement, or similar clauses in other relevant agreements. It includes a person employed on a sessional basis where such provision is made under an applicable industrial agreement. Headcount: The number of people employed where each person counts as one employee regardless of the number of hours engaged to work.”

Melbourne University’s 2020 Tabled Annual Report stated it had changed its workforce disclosures, (p. 92) “Explanatory note on staff numbers: Workforce data generated for the 2020 annual reporting period is based on Higher Education & Skills Group (HESG) Victorian Department of Education and Training guidelines.”

However, despite a thorough search, this document cannot be found. Is it not available to the public?

My database of employee numbers at Australian public sector universities consists of annual report data and Charities Commission disclosures on employee headcount numbers and full-time equivalents over several years. In researching accounting for employees by Australian public sector universities, I noticed the database showed some strange trends, such as increases in total employees in 2020. This research is outlined in brief below, comparing the last two annual reports and each Charities Commission data for the eight Victorian public sector universities. The Tables highlight the data. The analysis covers two data points about employees: headcount and full-time equivalents. Headcount is the number of actual employees ‒ full-time, part-time and casuals ‒ that should be extracted from payroll information. Full-time equivalent (FTE) is an accounting construct – still covering full-time, part-time and casuals – but much more malleable.

Some contexts to the headcount and FTE calculations is that universities report workforce data to the (federal)  Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DET) annually on March 31.

Universities provide numbers of casual staff in “aggregate rather than unit record (i.e., a single record may relate to many staff members).” DET requires universities to use a standardised formula to establish an “equivalence” between the work undertaken by a casual academic worker and a continuing full-time academic worker. Dados et al. (2019 p. 328) state that this formula varies according to different teaching roles. The calculation is not transparent and can be challenging to determine. However, the DET assumes that 25 face-to-face hours a week is equivalent to a full-time load (37.5 hours a week). DET calculates FTE based on worked hours over the entire calendar year, or 46 weeks, allowing four weeks of annual leave. However, casual teaching academics are only engaged during the teaching sessions at many universities. This equates to about 13 weeks plus before and after sessions seven more weeks, 20 weeks per half-year or 40 weeks per annum. Included in casual payment is an allowance for up to four weeks annual leave.

The eight Victorian public universities and employee disclosures

Deakin U

The 2020 Annual Report shows Deakin has 4,259 staff (FTE), including casuals (1,854.9 FTE academic and 2,404.2 FTE professional), a 276 FTE or 6.5 per cent reduction from 2019.

However, Deakin changed in 2020 its accounting for employees concerning headcount by only recognising employees as at the last pay period rather than those employed for the year.

When comparing headcount 2020 and 2019, staff lost employment in 2020 based on headcount. However, the 2019 adjusted figures look different.

The Annual Report also says, “the change in staffing numbers between 2019 and 2020 reflects the reduced need for casual staff due to a significant reduction in on-campus events, activities and service as well as the need to realign our workforce requirements to provide for financial sustainability and change in work priorities”.

 Table 1:  Deakin University

Headcount Full-time equivalent
2020 2019* 2020 2019*
All employees 5632 6226 4259 4535
Full-time employees 2828 2958 3257 3411
Part-time employees 656 689 NR NR
Fixed-term and casual employees 2418 2579 1001 1123

* recounted 2019 data and adjusted. NR not reported.

Deakin’s 2019 Annual Report included all staff employed during the year. However, in 2020 it only included staff employed in the last pay period of the reporting year. The Annual Report states that this change follows mandatory reporting requirements. What are these requirements?

The headcount reported in the 2019 Annual Report was 10,720, yet the restated figure for 2019 in the 2020 Annual Report 2019 was 6,226. Therefore about 4,500 employees dropped off the books. Similarly, the FTE for 2019 was 5,396 total, restated in the 2020 Annual Report as 4,535. More mysterious disappearances!

Finally, Deakin University’s Australia Charities Commission document discloses different numbers again for both headcount and FTE. Headcount: FT 3,592, PT 1,005, casuals 2,974, and FTE 4,929. So how many Deakin University staff in 2020 lost their job or were employed?

Federation University Australia     

Table 2 shows the Annual Report 2020 workforce disclosures for 2019.

Table 2: Federation University Australia

Headcount Full-time   equivalent
2020 2019 2020 2019
All employees 1618 1700 1238 1257
Full-time employees 793 840 955 1005
Part-time employees 319 285 NR NR
Fixed-term and casual employees 506 575 242 251

* NR not disclosed.

The 2020 Federation University Australia Charities Commission document discloses the following, and I am not sure if measured by Headcount or FTE: FT 1049, PT 372, casuals 235; FTE 1,366. This differs significantly from the number of employees in Table 2. That document also notes that the census date is December 31 and that it does not include staff employed by third-party providers. At Federation University, which had the highest ratio of international students to domestic students in Australia in 2019, many academics were employed by private third-party providers in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Most of these job losses are not included in Federation University numbers.  Finally, there is a footnote in the 2020 Annual Report that FTE does not include casuals or sessional staff.

La Trobe University

The Annual Report 2020 workforce disclosures for La Trobe U have the following data for 2019 in 2020.

 Table 3: La Trobe University

Headcount Full-time equivalent
2020 2019 2020 2019
All employees 5509 6795 2876 3339
Full-time employees 1600 1680 1834 2032
Part-time employees 1600 513 NR NR
Fixed-term and casual employees 3620 4688 1041 1307

NR not disclosed.

La Trobe University’s 2020 Annual Report noted, “(1) The 2019 provisional figures published in the previous year’s Annual Report have been adjusted and are now final. (3) Workforce disclosures data for 2020 is provisional.”

Therefore during 2020, La Trobe University adopted the same approach as the previous 2019 Annual Report, which included all staff employed during the entire year. This sets it apart from several other Victorian public universities, which chose only to include staff employed in the last pay period of the reporting year. Based on headcount La Trobe University lost about 1300 jobs during 2020.

The La Trobe University Australia Charities Commission document discloses FT 1 600, PT 357, causals 3,620 and FTE 2,876, which surprisingly are the same numbers as in Table 3. It is a consistent data set, but no information is provided to understand how the numbers were calculated.

Uni Melbourne

The Annual Report 2020 workforce disclosures have the following data for 2020 and 2019.

Table 4: Uni Melbourne

Headcount Full-time equivalent
2020 2019* 2020 2019*
All employees 12214 11376 9189 9514
Full-time employees 4181 4058 4824 4679
Part-time employees 962 926 NR NR
Fixed-term and casual employees 6233 7230 4364 4434

* recounted 2019 data and adjusted. NR not disclosed.

The Uni Melbourne Charities Commission reports for 2019 and 2020 contain the following data. For 2020 employees: FT 6 647, PT 2 618, casuals 5 563, total headcount 14 828; total FTE 8 193.  For 2019 employees: FT 6 777, PT 2 587, casuals 6 768, total headcount 16 132; total FTE 8 303. There are some big differences in reported employee number by headcount, FTE and category of employment.

Using Table 4 and adjusted 2019 numbers for all employees’ headcount, it looks like Uni Melbourne increased employment by 900 employees during 2020.

Going back to the 2019 university Annual Report, where the data was not adjusted, all employees were included for the period, 18 463 (adjusted 11,376) employees were disclosed for 2019, a difference of about 7,000 employees and FTE 9,372 (9,514 adjusted). These figures do not tell us anything – not how many staff were employed, how many lost their jobs, or (seemingly unlikely) how many new jobs were created?

 Monash University

The Annual Report 2020 workforce disclosures have the following data for 2020 and 2019.

Table 5:  Monash University

Headcount Full-time equivalent
2020 2019* 2020 2019*
All employees 9576 10042 8017 8346
Full-time employees 3547 3724 4004 4210
Part-time employees 662 711 NR NR
Fixed-term and casual employees 5367 5607 4012 4135

* recounted 2019 data and adjusted. NR Not reported

The Monash University 2020 Annual Report noted that: “The Department of Education and Training workforce data reporting guidelines clarified reporting requirements for the 2020 reporting year. The 2019 Annual Report included the total number of active casual/sessional staff members for the full year, as of 31 December 2019. In accordance with the clarified guidelines for the 2020 reporting year, casual/ sessional employees have been counted as those who are active and employed in the last full pay period of the reporting year. The 2020 data therefore excludes casual/sessional staff who have performed work in 2020 but were no longer active in the University’s payroll system in the last full pay period of the reporting year (2020).

For example, of the FTE casual/ sessional staff members who worked in March but are no longer active in December are not included. Casual staff numbers reduced in 2020 vs 2019, due to campus-based services being subject to some COVID opening and operating restrictions as at the reporting date; sessional numbers increased over the same period due to the later finish to teaching and assessment periods in 2020, relative to 2019.”

Therefore, Monash University differed from 2019 to 2020 in how it counts its employees, especially casuals. When comparing the 2020 and 2019 annual report data, there are significant differences in the numbers displayed. For instance, the total headcount in the 2019 Annual Report was 16,500 (10,042 adjusted).

Monash’s 2020 Charities Commission information has a different set of numbers for 2020, FT 6,191, PT 1,806, casuals 1,579 and FTE 8,017. These numbers should be the same as those in  Table 5, but clearly, they are not.

RMIT University     

The Annual Report 2020 workforce disclosures have the following data for 2020 and 2019.

Table 6   RMIT University

Headcount Full-time equivalent
2020 2019 2020 2019
All employees 9510 12467 6111 6976
Full-time employees 3321 3608 3660 3991
Part-time employees 501 566 NR NR
Fixed-term and casual employees 5688 8293 2451 2984

NR Not reported

RMIT states that “our annual reports record our strategic direction, activities, achievements, governance and financial position from 1 January to 31 December each year. These reports are tabled in the Victorian Parliament and then published as a public record of the University’s strategic direction, activities, achievements, governance and financial position.”

However, as it is a registered charity, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology must produce a Charities Commission information document, and the data for 2020 is as follows: FT 3,919, PT 730, casuals 3,433 and FTE 5,169. These numbers are significantly different from the annual report. There is no explanation as to why.

Unlike three other Victorian public universities in 2020, RMIT has not adjusted its employment data for 2019 by using payroll data as of 31 December rather than headcount for the entire period.

Swinburne University of Technology

The Annual Report 2020 workforce disclosures have the following data for 2020 and 2019.

Table 7: Swinburne University of Technology

Headcount Full-time equivalent
2020 2019 2020 2019
All employees 4220 4820 2590 2956
Full-time employees 1416 1437 1610 1654
Part-time employees 312 342 NR NR
Fixed-term and casual employees 2492 3039 980 1301

NR Not reported

It appears that Swinburne did not adjust its 2019 data. However, it is noted in the 2019 Annual Report that it changed the way it calculated staff numbers from previous years. Staff numbers averaged over the year, whilst in 2019, the numbers are as of December 31 2019.

In its Charities Commission Annual Information Statement, the data was FT 1,988, PT 595, casuals 301 (must be a mistake in the data), and FTE 2,347. These numbers differ enormously from those in Table 7, which are for the same period. There is no explanation as to why.

Victoria University

The Annual Report 2020 workforce disclosures have the following data for 2020 and 2019.

Table 8:   Victoria University

Headcount Full-time equivalent
2020 2019 2020 2019
All employees 3135 4487 1872 2123
Full-time employees 1237 1418 1270 nr
Part-time employees 528 563 468 nr
Fixed-term and casual employees 1370 2506 133 nr

NR Not reported

Victoria University Annual Information Statement 2020 has the following disclosures: FT 1 616, PT 282, Casuals1 237, and FTE 872. These numbers are not significantly different from those in Table 8.


The accounting for and disclosure of public sector universities employment numbers is a social phenomenon. As illustrated above, the Victorian public sector universities approach calculating and reporting employee data in their annual reports and Charities Commission information documents in varying ways.

Sometimes the variations are in individual university practices from year to year. This has the effect of distorting the numbers considerably. As public sector entities why are these universities not following the Victorian Treasury guidelines on workforce data disclosures as required? When we mix the data from the Charities Commission reports into our analysis, the numbers become even less transparent, as they mainly differ significantly from those in the 2020 annual reports.

The analysis here demonstrates an urgent need for Australian public universities to standardise workforce data calculating and reporting. The current research project highlights the importance of data in uncovering and portraying injustices. Without transparency, we can have no trust.

Distinguished Professor James Guthrie AM, Macquarie U Business School


Dados, Nour, et al. “Counting the Uncounted: Contestations over Casualisation Data in Australian Universities.” Data in Society: Challenging Statistics in an Age of Globalisation, edited by Jeff Evans et al., 1st ed., Bristol University Press, Bristol, 2019, pp. 327–336. JSTOR, Accessed 12 September 2021.

James Guthrie and Brendan O’Connell (2021), The 2020 job losses university documents disguise How many people lost work in Victorian public sector universities in 2020 is a mystery: none of the documents reconcile, Campus Morning Mail, May 30.

James Guthrie and Tom Smith (2021)  “Universities should report real staff numbers and not accounting abstractions,” Campus Morning Mail  January 27

James Guthrie (2021), Universities must plan and budget for the public good, Campus Morning Mail, 6

James Guthrie (2021) The case of the disappearing uni casuals: As if by accounting magic – reporting changes mean Victorian uni job losses are understated, Campus Morning Mail, 1 July,

James Guthrie (2021), Uni Wollngng’s financial 2020: a financial loss and staff gone” Campus Morning Mail, 14 July 2021,

The Australian Charities and Non-profit Commission’s Annual Information Statement for various public universities in 2020.

Eliza Littleton and Jim Stanford, (2021), An Avoidable Catastrophe: Pandemic Job Losses in Higher Education and their Consequences, The Centre for Future Work September 2021.


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education