Major Student and Staff Profile Changes Since 2009 By Australia’s Multi-Billion Dollar Universities

By Frank Larkins, Professor Emeritus in the School of Chemistry and a former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne

Summary: The U5 group of universities – Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland and Monash – in their quest for revenue growth have all profoundly changed the balance of their student profiles between domestic to overseas students over the decade 2009 to 2018. They have also limited the growth of their staffing levels and shifted their profiles to a higher proportion of teaching-only, casual and non-academic staff. The changes that have occurred are reviewed in this paper.

The U5 research-intensive universities have collectively achieved record revenue and total assets increases of near 75% in dollars of the day over the decade, in part by increasing student load by 39% and constraining the staffing load growth to only 19%. 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% of student load growth over the past decade.

Staffing proportionally has been reduced and growth now lags well behind student growth. U5 academic staff growth over the decade was only 13.6% - well less than one half of the student load growth of 39.2%. Academic staff represented only 36.4% of all additional staff recruited, with the academic staff profile being dominated by teaching-only growth of 1645 FTE, net U5 zero growth in teaching and research staff and 751 FTE growth for research-only staff. Consequently, student-to-staff ratios have been adversely affected. The U5 group members have all transformed their operations over the past decade, in particular since 2014-15, in very similar ways that now differentiate them from the rest of the higher education system.

Educational services are Australia’s third largest export and U5 universities have strong balance sheet, so by these measures institutions are making a significant contribution to the Australian economy; but at what long-term cost? There is a need for more policy discussions at the institutional governance level and at the national level as to how well the current U5 strategies are serving university and national community interests. The dialogue should include institutional financial vulnerability, domestic student participation, the quality of student educational experiences, staffing levels (especially the future role of teaching-and-research staff), the relevance of the teaching-research nexus concept, and the amount of new knowledge being created through research to sustain Australia’s international competitiveness.

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Public Seminar: Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins discussed student and staff profile changes of five multi-billion dollar Australian universities during the last decade on  Tuesday 18 February 2020, 12:30pm - 2pm. More information.

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Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins