Throughout the pandemic, we watched Australia’s universities cry poor over the loss of international students only to then watch as many posted record surpluses.
Now the University of Melbourne has joined the fold, posting a bumper surplus of $147 million for 2021 – its best result in five years. However, it continues to cry poor as its vice-chancellor, Duncan Maskell, rakes in $1.5 million in pay:
“We expect that revenue will be down $1.4 billion between 2020-2024 compared to pre-pandemic estimates, and we anticipate a large operating deficit for 2022,” [Maskell] said.
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“This expected downturn will be helped by the strong 2021 financial result, but the university must continue its careful and prudent approach to financial management.”
Clearly, a “prudent approach to financial management” doesn’t apply to Maskell’s outrageous pay.
Meanwhile, Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) Sandra Parker says wage underpayment has become a systemic issue in Australia’s tertiary education sector. The FWO is currently investigating 11 of the nation’s universities for potentially underpaying their staff, with Parker claiming the high level of casual staff at universities is a major concern.
The National Tertiary Education Union’s president Alison Barnes also says wage theft in universities is “out of control”, which has made wage theft in the higher education sector one of the FWO’s priorities in 2022-23:
Parker said she was “pretty shocked” to discover the casualisation rates at universities during a Senate inquiry into job security earlier this year. The inquiry heard that 47 per cent of the University of Melbourne’s 11,000 staff last year were casuals…
“What has been surprising is the fact that it does look reasonably systemic,” Parker said. “It’s a trend – it obviously starts with poor governance, poor management oversight and a lack of centralised HR”…
NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes said wage theft in universities was “out of control”.
“The proliferation of insecure work in the higher education sector has fuelled this crisis. Due to the high rate of casualisation in the workforce, it is difficult to ensure correct wages are paid without exploitation,” Barnes said.
Australia’s universities experienced massive funding growth over the decade to 2019:
It wasn’t just international student fees that boomed either. Public funding for universities also grew significantly between 2011 and 2019:
But instead of treating front-line academic staff properly, universities pissed the bounty away on paying exorbitant salaries to senior executives:
Bloating their administrative departments (while skimping on teaching staff):
And building lots of shiny new buildings:
Australia’s universities have shredded their social contract.
It’s time to rein them in.