The ANU community packed into Llewellyn Hall on Tuesday to hear Vice-Chancellor Ian Young deliver a “budget solutions” package. Nervous students and staff arrived at the unique announcement, and were presented with a raft of measures that both aim to raise revenue and cut costs. This follows the $51 million blow to the ANU’s income from the Government in May’s Federal Budget.
The announcement that focused on “change, renewal and growth” was mercifully free of the drastic measures many expected. Young emphasised that the input from staff and student forums contributed to many of the measures, perhaps in an effort to take the heat off the university for the few relatively unpopular features.
Young began by announcing plans to raise revenue. After making it clear that ANU will never have a comparatively “huge” undergraduate population and that the university’s size is a factor that “makes the education experience we can offer unique”, the Vice-Chancellor outlined a small increase in undergraduate student intake. The university is aiming for a 5% increase in 2014 and an 11.8% increase in 2015.
Young also flagged an increase in both the international student population and their fees. Projected is a 1.5% increase in international coursework students in both 2014 and 2015, as well as a 10% rise in fees in 2015, up from a planned 5% rise in both 2014 and 2015. Young was at pains to stress that ANU’s fees were among the “lowest in the Group of Eight” giving the university “room to move.”
A nervous but unsurprised chuckle (or groan) from the audience greeted the first mention of changes to parking fees. ANU has historically charged low fees, relative to the commercial operators in Canberra and around the campus. The VC announced there would be an increase in fees that would match the cost of public transport, highlighting the irony that it is cheaper to park on campus than it is to get a bus here. The fee changes announced affect only reserve undercover spots, while pay and display parking will not change. Price changes to surface parking permits are still being considered, although any increase will be smaller than the reserved spot fee rise.
In a change of tack, Young announced that all staff would get a pay rise of 2%, effective immediately. The VC said they were “overdue for a pay increase” and that this was a “timely and appropriate measure to recognize [staff’s] ongoing contribution”. Another 2% increase will happen in 2014. The budgetary impact of this salary increase will be $15 million per annum, apparently eating into many of the savings announced.
One of those savings (and the biggest announcement of the day) is a reduction in the number of professional staff at ANU by 10%, or 230 positions. The ANU will apply through to the ATO for a voluntary early retirement scheme. The Vice-Chancellor pointed out that there are 550 professional staff over the age of 55, and they would be encouraged to look into this option. The scheme would be “accompanied by a major administrative overhaul to reduce duplication of roles and processes,” suggesting there will be some people encouraged more strongly than others to take the “voluntary” scheme. A $1 million fund for “retraining, redeployment and change” was also announced to help with this process. There was no comment on how the ANU would meet the staff reduction targets if voluntary redundancies weren’t enough.
The big winners from this are academic staff. There would be no forced staff cuts amongst their number, although the voluntary early retirement scheme would be extended to academics over 55. Importantly, the VC promised that for every academic who retires as part of the scheme, a new, younger academic would replace them. In other words, there will be an effort to rejuvenate the academic staff community, something many see as overdue. The VC fielded a question from the audience on effect of the increase in student numbers on the workload of academic staff. His response was that it would be minimal. ANU has the lowest student to staff ratio in the country and the planned increase would be “modest in size”.
In a gesture of personal commitment sure to get people talking (not necessarily positively), the VC announced that all staff, including his executive colleagues and himself, would travel economy class on trips less than 6 hours. Moreover,in a symbolic gesture to highlight the importance of giving back to the ANU through philanthropy and fundraising, Young announced would be giving $50 000 of his salary, and his executive team would be returning the 2% pay increase. He encouraged any other staff with the means to do so as well.
Other initiatives announced include a 2.5% overheads charge to the ANU accommodation providers (Toad, Ursula, Bruce, Fenner and B&G Halls, and Graduate House and University House). This charge would have to be met by reductions in expenditure and Halls/colleges will not be allowed to pass on this charge to students and other clients, although it is reasonable to expect that there will be consequences from efforts to balance budgets when this increased cost is taken into account.
Energy bills at ANU total $17 million per annum and the VC wants this decreased by $2 million. Travel and accommodation by staff is around $22m per year and he wants that cut by $1.3m next year and $1.7m in 2015. ANU-owned vehicles will need to be shared and pooled as the VC hopes to save around $230K in this area.
Young also mentioned that he had spoken to newly appointed Higher Education Minister, Kim Carr, commenting that the conversation provided a “glimmer of hope” that the Government might reprioritise university funding. Funding on a national level was in the news yesterday as Minister Carr indicated that he wanted to re-examine it, as well as the cap on Commonwealth funded university places that was removed last year. An end to that demand-driven system would mean the university had to abandon the projected increase in student numbers. “Obviously if the world changes we will need to be flexible enough to accommodate that in this package,” The Australian quoted Young as saying.
Ultimately, the announcement left staff – the ones most affected by its contents – feeling largely relieved that it wasn’t worse. Effects on students remain largely unclear as few of the announcements directly concerned them, although inevitably changes have implications for everyone in the university community. Students can certainly be glad that areas like academic staff have been spared this time. In a release, the ANU Students’ Association expressed relief at the nature of the package, although President Aleks Sladojevic expressed concern that planned rises in student numbers could affect tutorial sizes.
For more detail from the university on the package, visit budgetsolutions.anu.edu.au/.