Over the past two decades, investment in Australian universities has grown almost without pause. In 2020, pandemics, border closures and government reforms of student funding arrangements have resulted in the higher education sector facing some of its greatest challenges.

Australian university profits plummeted by $1.6 billion to just $669 million. 15 of the 38 universities included in the analysis reported a deficit in 2020. Most of the universities that didn’t post a deficit barely broke even.

Almost all the sector’s surpluses were concentrated in Australia’s three largest universities: 

– Monash University ($267 million);

– The University of Melbourne ($178 million);

– The University of Sydney ($107 million).

This suggests that it is the smaller and less prestigious universities that are finding the conditions the toughest. Without further support, parts of the university sector are likely to face very difficult choices that will mean further cuts to staffing, courses and research.

The impact of the pandemic on international students remains one of the biggest issues facing the sector. Border closures impact the ability of international students to return to Australia, and for new international students to enrol, disrupting a significant income source for universities. In the first six months of 2021, international student enrollments at public higher education institutions fell at an annualized rate of between 20% and 24%. If this rate were to continue, this roughly equates to about $2 billion to $2.4 billion in annual revenue across the university sector.

[ > Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy — August 30, 2021 ]