Strategy that delivers for the billion dollar unis

The five richest Aus unis are different to the others. It’s not just that they have more money, it’s how they make it

The five institutions making more than $1bn have  selective-growth strategies. Frank Larkindemonstrates how they have done it in new research for the University of Melbourne’s L H Martin Institute.

Professor Larkins’ new paper extends his research on the money the Big Five make (CMM, December 10).

What they did: Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland and Monash have, “collectively achieved record revenue and total assets increases of near 75 per cent in dollars of the day over the decade, in part by increasing student load by 39 per cent and constraining the staffing load growth to only 19 per cent. They have shifted their student recruitment focus away from undergraduate and research students to postgraduate coursework recruiting, especially overseas students, to sustain significant revenue growth. Overseas students were responsible for 76 per cent of student load growth over the past decade,” Professor Larkins writes.

Not so much bigger as different markets:  Between 2009 and 2018 the U-5 under-performed the university system as a whole in domestic student load growth, increasing enrolments by 13 per cent, compared to other universities, which increased local EFTs by 35 per cent.

However, the five expanded international student enrolments by 104 per cent, compared to 37 per cent by all others.

The Five went big on international coursework postgrads, from 47 per cent of the overall coursework category in ’09 to 63 per cent in ’18.

In contrast, overall postgraduate coursework enrolments grew from 16 per cent to 20 per cent of totals at the other universities, because of an increase from overseas.

And teaching productivity: Despite similar overall student growth-rates, the U-5 also grew their academic workforce at a more modest rate than the other universities, by 13.6 per cent, compared to 29 per cent elsewhere. However, the 2009-’18 growth in non-academic staff was more on line, 24.4 per cent in the five and 27.9 per cent in other institutions.

So, what’s the big deal?: Professor Larkins acknowledges the Big Five are, “making a significant contribution to Australia’s balance of trade through the educational exports they generate.” However, he suggests there are questions as to how they serve the university and national community interests. In particular, he points to; institutions’ financial vulnerability, domestic student participation, educational experiences, staffing levels, the teaching-research nexus for staff.