The University’s financial results are in for 2022, so for those of you not studying economics, Woroni has broken down what this means for students.

The deficit

The ANU reported an operating deficit of $117.4 million in 2022. This is less than the ANU’s expected operating deficit of $182.8 million, however it is still a substantially worse result than 2021, where the ANU reported an operating surplus of $30.2 million

To put this number in perspective, the ANU is spending $2.25 million more a week than it is earning. There could be a number of reasons for the sudden change from surplus to deficit. The ANU noted in 2021 that savings had stemmed from the lack of university travel during the COVID-19  lockdown and a number of unfilled staff positions. As the university emerges from COVID-19, and as staff enter the enterprise bargaining process, the question remains of why the University is in deficit, and what changes might be required to balance the bottom line.

What does the University actually spend money on?

The University’s 2022 financial results identify some areas of increased spending in 2022. Most notably, the ANU increased spending on full-time equivalent staff by about 250 staff members. This increase in staff members in the last year occurs at a time where staff bargaining is underway, with an NTEU representative telling Woroni “More staffing is always welcome.”

The representative questioned however why the ANU chose to offer redundancies to staff as part of the ANU Recovery Plan in 2020 only to now raise staffing levels again. They argued “The need to hire large numbers of new staff suggests that the ANU Recovery Plan did not leave the university better off.” The ANU Recovery Plan allowed staff to take voluntary separations from the University due to the need to cut the number of ongoing staff. 

This means the University paid staff to leave their position, with an anticipated overall cost of up to $213 million in 2021. The NTEU raised that “questions need to be asked about whether the redundancies were well planned and represented value for money” given the recent rehiring.

A spokesperson from ANU provided no specific response to the NTEU’s comments, instead directing to the University’s statement here.

Where did the ANU lose money?

The financial results also identified areas where the ANU had decreased revenue in 2022. Research funding, specifically Research Block Grants, saw a decrease of $11.2 million in 2022, with further decreases expected in 2023. The ANU’s own results claim this is due to its “underperformance in the sector.” 

Research Block Grants are Government issued grants which “provide funding to eligible Australian higher education providers (HEPs) to support research and research training.” The government awards the grants “based on the relative performance of each higher education provider in attracting research income and supporting students to complete higher degrees by research (HDRs).” 

Declining Research Block Grants is one metric of declining research performance, income and attractiveness to postgraduate students. 

The Department of Education has already released research block grants results for 2023, where the ANU was ranked 6th of the Group of Eight universities for funding allocated.

Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt has previously argued that the current research funding model focuses too much on commercialisation and not on curiosity. 

The ANU declined again to provide specific comment, but in their release of results, stated “We are optimistic we can deliver on the 2023 budget however we are cautious about our research performance relative to the sector as we have had a year-on-year reduction in our Research Block Grant. This is an area of increased focus for us.”

Overall, the ANU’s 2022 financial results leave questions of how it will manage future deficits, how actions during COVID-19 affected the staffing of the university, and whether the ANU is losing its esteemed reputation as a research-focused university.

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