The NSW Auditor-General’s ‘Universities 2020 Audits’ report confirmed that Charles Sturt University achieved a remarkable improvement in its financial outcome due to ongoing annual savings in the second half of last year.
The University’s operating deficit at the end of 2020 was $15.5 million - a significant $34 million decrease on the $49.5 million deficit forecast in June last year.
The positive financial outcome was one of many for Charles Sturt in the report, which also highlighted strong growth in domestic student enrolments, sector-leading graduate employment outcomes, and high rates of Indigenous and low socio-economic status student enrolments.
Charles Sturt University Interim Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Germov, said while 2020 had been a difficult year for the higher education sector, Charles Sturt remained on track to return to a balanced budget by the end of 2021.
“The budget remediation measures started in 2020 as part of our Sustainable Futures program are, at times, difficult, especially the loss of some of our staff,” Professor Germov said.
“They are also necessary, and have helped Charles Sturt University embed an operating model across our courses and campuses that is viable, market-responsive and drives academic and research excellence.
“The success of the changes we’re implementing will be reflected in our soon-to-be-tabled 2020 Annual Report and will ensure Charles Sturt remains Australia’s leading regional university for a long time to come.”
Other Charles Sturt outcomes in the NSW Auditor-General’s ‘Universities 2020 Audits’ report include:
- Cutting expenditure by 9.2 per cent in 2020 – proportionately more than any other NSW university
- The best graduate employment outcomes among NSW universities, for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, for the fifth year in a row
- A 5 per cent increase in domestic enrolments, the highest volume at the University in the previous five years, with 2021’s to-date domestic enrolment figures (as of 16 June) exceeding 2020’s by more than 1100 students for a total of 32,966
- NSW’s leading university for Indigenous student enrolments, with over 1200 Indigenous students – a year-on-year increase of more than 11 per cent
- One of only five NSW universities (and second overall) to achieve enrolment of more than 20 per cent of domestic students of low socio-economic status.
The strong results in the report drew praise from stakeholders across the University’s footprint.
Deputy Leader of the NSW Nationals and Member for Bathurst, The Hon Mr Paul Toole, said the financial progress made by the University was a “positive result”.
“Charles Sturt University has gone to great lengths to get back on track financially after facing hurdles posed by COVID-19,” Mr Toole said.
“At last there is now some light at the end of the tunnel as the University’s balance sheets are returning to a positive result.”
Member of the NSW Legislative Council, The Hon Mr Wes Fang, echoed Mr Toole’s supportive comments.
“I am grateful for Charles Sturt’s efforts to keep me updated about its budget remediation work and I’m very pleased to see it has put the University in this vastly improved financial position,” Mr Fang said.
“The past 12 months have been difficult for Australian universities, and Charles Sturt has not been immune, but the results in this report mean there is genuine cause for optimism for the University’s staff, students and campus communities.”
Member of the NSW Legislative Council, The Hon Mr Sam Farraway, said the University’s financial position would be leveraged into projects and partnerships that will benefit its campus communities.
“I look forward to continuing to work with Charles Sturt in the coming months and years to ensure its position as Australia’s leading regional university is maintained and enhanced,” he said.
“On the back of this financial security there are a range of projects undertaken or led by the University which will reap huge benefits for regional Australia.”
Chief among these will be:
- The $8 million Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub at the University’s Wagga Wagga campus, which will be bolstered by an additional $11.9 million from partners
- The $66 million Stage 2 expansion of the University’s Port Macquarie campus, recently opened by NSW Premier, The Hon Ms Gladys Berejiklian
- Embedding future cohorts in the School of Rural Medicine at the University’s Orange campus. The School’s $22 million facilities will be officially opened next month
The delay in Charles Sturt’s Annual Report being tabled in NSW Parliament was due to discussions with the Audit Office of NSW around the application of accounting standards. The application of these accounting standards - categorising $35 million in one-off grants for capital works as revenue - saw the University record a $19.5 million ‘paper’ surplus in 2020.
The NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education has been kept apprised throughout this process.
The Annual Report will also show the University did not just look to weather the financial blows of COVID-19, but succeeded in having a positive effect in countering its impacts on regional Australians. The University funded 12 COVID-19 research grants that explored the impacts of the virus on community health, wellbeing, business performance and the economy, while also administering more than 4100 COVID-19 student grants to assist students to continue their studies.