NSW universities spent nearly $ 300 million to lay off staff in 2020, audit finds

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Universities in New South Wales spent a total of $ 293.9 million on staff layoffs in 2020, a Audit out of ten public universities conducted by the NSW Auditor-General revealed.

The audit shows that university spending on staff layoffs exceeded the $ 286.6 million shortfall of international students in 2020. A total of 2,162 staff lost their jobs.

While layoff programs increased employee-related spending at all ten universities by 4.4% from 2019, job losses are expected to lead to lower employee-related spending in the years to come, which will allow save university costs in the long run.

Voluntary departure programs provide financial incentives for employees to resign, which allows university management to minimize the reputational risk associated with staff dismissal, although the extent to which the programs are “voluntary” is questionable.

In response to expected revenue cuts, the University of Sydney (USyd) launched a voluntary layoff program in September 2020, accepting 252 expressions of interest from staff in December.

The USyd has forecast $ 29 million in layoffs under the program, with 166 staff who have gone through the program’s consultation stages initially this year. The program was part of a “suite of cost-saving measures implemented as the potential impacts of the pandemic became clear,” a spokesperson for the University said. Honi.

In addition, in 2020, 131 employees were laid off at USyd at a cost of $ 10.8 million. 109 of those layoffs were voluntary, meaning 22 were made without choice.

Critics argued the layoffs were unnecessary given the University’s strong financial situation, suggesting that managers had wanted to downsize since before the pandemic.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) unanimously opposed the voluntary layoff program after its announcement in September, with former Sydney NTEU chairman Kurt Iveson calling it “pandemic opportunism.”

Current branch president Patrick Brownlee said Honi that the NTEU had “lobbied for the university to draw on its vast reserves to cover any funding shortfall that may have arisen due to declining enrollment” and “succeeded in ending the forced mass layoffs, but the allure of virtual reality has seen many people put their hands up.

In statements to Honi Last year, the University justified the austerity measures in response to the pandemic, including an expected reduction in international student enrollments in 2021 due to restrictions on overseas travel.

However, USyd was one of only two institutions to have increased its income from international students, by 4% according to its annual report. The number of international student enrollments at USyd also increased by 32.5% in the first semester of 2021, compared to the first semester of 2020.

A spokesperson said that although the numbers have increased, they continue to be well below pre-pandemic predictions, but that due to cost-saving measures and students studying remotely, the University has “so far resisted the impacts of the pandemic to a much better extent than we have. never thought possible.

The audit attributes the increase in the number of international students to the establishment by the University of “rapid network access capabilities” to allow international students to study online.

Elsewhere, the audit shows that USyd is the richest of the state’s public universities, posting a surplus of $ 109 million in 2020.

USyd’s strong financial position is closely followed by Western Sydney University, with net operating income of $ 22 million. Meanwhile, six universities including UNSW, UTS and Macquarie recorded negative net results in 2020.

The University also garnered more than $ 120 million in donations and bequests from philanthropists in 2020, an increase of 46.4% from 2019. Its philanthropic revenues far exceeded those of other universities.

More than 17,000 people lost their jobs at Australian universities in 2020, including permanent and casual staff whose contracts were not renewed.

Brownlee said Honi that the NTEU feared that the “totally unnecessary” layoffs had increased the workload of the remaining staff, while stressing that this was already the case:

“This is a condition of the modern university: constant changes, constant strategies and constant and glaring demands on staff to work beyond their declared workloads. “

Editor’s Note: Updated with Patrick Brownlee’s comment on June 25, 7:42 p.m. ET.

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