In April, Vice-Chancellor Margaret Sheil told QUT staff the university had a $25m statutory surplus for last year – a significant improvement on its initially feared $100m deficit (CMM July 15 2020). Based on this projected deficit figure initially, QUT staff accepted an Enterprise Agreement variation (EVA).

Under this variation, staff accepted the postponement of a 2 per cent pay rise to December, forego leave loadings for 18 months, and took compulsory Christmas leave (CMM July 15 2020). The variation was backed by the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union and professional staff union. Over 90 per cent of professional staffers and 88 per cent of academics voting endorsed the EVA (CMM August 3 2020).

The projected deficit also prompted QUT to restructure, reorganising schools and one faculty into five faculties (CMM August 21 2020). T

The restructure included 159 redundancies. Staff responded in numbers, with 1350 written submissions according to university management. These job losses are in addition to the many casuals and fixed-term staff who lost their employment during 2020.

Compare QUT’s actions about staff to its description of itself in its Annual Report (2020)

“Our real-world graduates benefit from QUT’s distinctive learning experiences,
delivered by outstanding teachers. We produce highly skilled, enterprising graduates well suited to 21st century employment and careers who, throughout their lives, will thrive in changing and complex working environments.

QUT delivers high-impact research that spans discipline boundaries and is pursued in partnership with end users, leveraging our deep technological strengths and responding to the human capital and innovation needs of the global economy.”

The 2020 Annual Report reveals some interesting information about the 2020 QUT numbers. It shows that revenue was approximately $1bn, which was down slightly mainly because of an $80 million loss in investment revenue. Nearly $200m in cash and cash equivalents was held in investment funds by the Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC), a government-owned investment company.

The Annual Report highlights that total expenditure was about $1bn and employee benefits increased due to redundancies, including severance payments of $8m.

Like many other universities, QUT calculates its underlying operating result and makes several adjustments to its statutory accrual operating results. The Statement of Cash Flows 2020 highlights a positive of about $120m. That is, cash received less cash paid generated $120m in surpluses. This is used for investing and financing activities, including payment for property developments.

Looking at 2021 tender documents highlights only significant investments in accounting and marketing (Service Implementation Partner Financial Reporting Portal and marketing Software Implementation Partner Digital Engagement Platform).

Turning now to Net Assets ($1.758bn, increased $27.9m), we see these made up of land and buildings of about $1bn, with a cash equivalent of $200m. The costs of the land and building are shown as $0. These land and buildings would have been gifted or paid for by government capital grants for infrastructure developments. It is clear then that QUT’s financial position is strong.

Professor Margaret Sheil’s salary for 2020 was $1,209,999 and for 2019 $1,189,999. Compare this to the Premier of Queensland’s annual pay of $385,605. Performance bonuses may be paid or payable annually, depending upon the satisfaction of key criteria. At QUT, performance payments of the key management are up to 12 per cent of total fixed remuneration, and for the vice chancellor, up to 20 per cent. The amounts payable are tied to the achievement of predetermined individual targets and organisational performance. As with most public universities, these individual performance criteria are not publicly available. In terms of governance, chancellor Dr Xiaoling Liu, is a highly experienced company director with extensive senior executive management and operations expertise in the minerals sector.

Comparing the 2019 and 2020 annual reports, data on employees showed a drop in full-time employees, but precisely how many is difficult to determine—the data reports on full-time at March 31. For 2020, QUT used an estimate of 2019 casual staff full-time equivalent, which makes it difficult to evaluate changes in numbers, given the numbers are counting apples and oranges.

However, in the Charities Commission reports for 2020 and 2019, we have a clearer picture, which shows that QUT had a significant decline in full-time employees and an increase in part-time employees, while numbers of casuals are consistent. The numbers in the annual report are different from those shown in the following tables. This may be an accounting paradox. While this is taking place, we see that the Times Higher Education data show staff/student ratios have increased from 1/38.2 in 2020 to 1/42 in 2021.

2020 QUT employment data@

Full-time employees: 2467

Part-time employees: 2526

Casual employees: 8743

Full-time equivalent staff (FTE): 4  897

2019 QUT employment data

Full-time employees: 3347

Part-time employees: 1406

Casual employees: 8539

Full-time equivalent staff (FTE): 4,886

@ source QUT Charities Commission Reports

Recent media reports of a staff survey, state staff lack confidence in senior management but QUT is not alone.

A recent Senate Select Committee Inquiry  on job insecurity (2021) identified widespread issues in the higher education sector of overuse and underpayment of casual workers. The University of Sydney Casuals Network has claimed that underpayment is structural and not an accident. Its submission to the Inquiry specified that “wage theft is the business model that university managements are pursuing”,and a ‘growing body of anecdotal and indicative evidence’ supports this claim.

As discussed in chapter seven of the Senate Committee report, the scope of casualisation in the higher education sector has been challenging to quantify as universities are not required to report a headcount of casual staff. Many industry bodies and unions have attempted to fill this gap by estimating university workforce data but rely on anecdotal evidence, different count methodologies, and varying sample sizes.

Finally, the NTEU, in its submission, argued that universities have been able to conceal the true nature of their workforce due to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) reporting criteria. The use of “vague” and “outdated” reporting measures such as full-time equivalent (FTE) are not appropriate tools and do not correctly identify the nature and size of the workforce.

That these problems have not been addressed is clear from the QUT reporting outlined above but QUT is by no means alone. It is time that public sector universities confronted their true purpose ‒ to educate, research, work in the public interest and pursue what the idealists among us consider their ultimate purpose, the betterment of society.

Distinguished Professor James Guthrie AM, Macquarie U Business School

Senate Select Committee on Job Security Second interim report: insecurity in publicly-funded jobs, October 2021.

Queensland University of Technology charities commission report

Queensland University of Technology annual report 2019, 2020


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