The University of Newcastle, Australia

Financial sustainability: a fundamental imperative

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

As we move through October, future government funding for the Higher Education sector remains uncertain with the news last week that the proposed legislative changes will not succeed in the Senate.  While we cannot be sure of the scope or scale of future policy changes, we can be absolutely certain that budget savings will remain a focus for the Government.

Nat McGregor, Chief Operating Officer

UON has worked hard in the last few years to ensure our revenue is directed to supporting our core business of teaching and research. We are therefore prepared for the next wave of change, acknowledging however that this will still require the necessary financial discipline and leadership accountability. Currently the demand in the ‘demand drive system’ for domestic students has flattened out and for many universities including our own this means that we will continue to need to work hard to ensure that growth in our costs do not outstrip any growth in student revenue. Staff across our Faculties and Divisions are to be commended for acknowledging the constraints we face and stepping up to the challenge of “making it work”.

University financial planning and management is a complex and challenging undertaking. Our finances are managed in three tiers – the Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP); annual operating budgets; and forecasts.

The LTFP sets out our expectations for student related revenue and university expenditure. It represents a commitment to investing in the future and our mechanism for maintaining oversight of finances needed to deliver the NeW Futures Strategic Plan. The LTFP allows UON to make and review strategic investment decisions and ensure that UON remains financially sustainable into the future. In particular, our strategic and capital investment programs will position UON as the University of choice for students of the future and continue to be a priority in our planning.  By ensuring that every year we earn more than we spend, and through these surpluses, we can build the funds required to invest in resources, infrastructure and initiatives that meet the education needs and expectations of students in a rapidly changing environment.

It was excellent to see this year that just such an investment in NeW Space has significantly lifted our profile in many key market areas, particularly for students studying in the discipline fields delivered in the new building. Capital investment of this kind sends a clear message that we are ‘open for business’ and that we provide a truly world-class educational experience. Similarly, investing in the redesign of our student facing services is also a significant strategic undertaking and one that will set us up to provide a student experience that ensures UON remains a competitive choice for the best and brightest students. The work being done is detailed and comprehensive and while we look forward to offering an improved student experience, we continue to be mindful that the best decisions for the University can be unsettling for staff who are working to meet the needs of students in the face of changing modes of education delivery under tough circumstances.

Most, if not all, Australian universities are currently navigating complex choices between strategic investment, cost control and driving revenue growth. As we work through the process of setting our annual budgets for 2018 and reviewing our progress against the LTFP, we are reminded of this challenge and our shared responsibility to maintain a strong and viable university for future generations of UON students and staff. Anchoring ourselves to be financially sustainable into the future is a fundamental imperative and if we can do that, we will find ourselves riding the waves of change without the worry of coming adrift.


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