Sound results in an uncertain environment
The University’s 2017 Annual Report was tabled in NSW Parliament this week. This statutory report provides the NSW Government, the people of NSW, our many stakeholders, our staff, and students with an overview of our overall performance in the year against our strategic plan; our many achievements and awards; and our financial performance, and health over the last 12 months. I encourage staff to view this Report, which can be found here.
In regards to our 2017 financial performance and financial health, the University delivered a solid financial result, allowing us to maintain our strategic investment in teaching, learning and research. The University maintains a strong balance sheet. Added to this, the University, together with our controlled entities (TUNRA and UON Singapore), achieved an overall surplus of $57.4m, which reflects the strong performance of the University’s investments and commercial activities. These results position us well to face the challenges of an uncertain government funding environment and provide us with the capacity to continue planning for future growth.
It is important to know that contained within the 2017 surplus result are a range of non-operating philanthropic and grant funds ($19.7m which is already committed to research and scholarships) and a net investment return of $30.8m to be reinvested for continued growth over the long term.
It is therefore important that we continue to focus on what is happening in the core performance of our University’s teaching and research operations. At the end of 2017 we communicated that the University’s core operations will face cost pressures in light of the Federal Government’s MYEFO cap on Commonwealth funding support for domestic students. I would like to acknowledge and thank colleagues and all University staff for taking the necessary measures to ensure growth in our operating costs remains in line with growth in our operating revenues.
In 2018, we have been buoyed by stronger enrolment numbers in our domestic and international undergraduate programs and positive signs for post-graduate numbers for Trimester Two. These signal several things including the success of our brand relaunch in 2017, a focused and committed effort on the part of Faculties and Divisions to engaging with prospective and current students through our admissions processes, the quality and relevance of our program offerings, and the investment in renewing our physical and digital environments. We know that continuing to attract high calibre students is critical and we need to remain focused on investing wisely to achieve continued growth, regardless of the trends and flows of government policy.
Looking beyond 2018 and into a future which continues to be characterised by political and other uncertainties, our Long Term Financial Plan is designed to ensure the University remains financially sustainable while delivering our long term goals. This includes ongoing investments in research, education and our workforce, improving our digital environment, facilities and infrastructure for our students and staff. As we progress through our Enterprise Bargaining process, we are mindful of finding the right balance to our commitment to our staff to ensure UON remains a great place to work, underpinned by financial sustainability.
From 2019, the University, like most public universities, expects to feel the real effect of caps on Government-funded university places (announced by the Federal Government in MYEFO). It is an irony not lost on the leadership across the University that the positive trend in student numbers experienced in 2018 will not result in the full uplift in revenue given the new capped domestic undergraduate funding environment. Despite the MYEFO challenges, we are confident of our capacity to ride the wave of change. We also must not lose sight of the fact that funding environments may still change further in a Federal election year.
Understanding our funding and fiscal environment has never been more important. In the weeks ahead, myself and other colleagues will be making our way across the University to engage with leaders and staff on all campuses in conversations on the current and future state of the University’s financials. I encourage you to take the opportunity to be part of, or present for, these conversations as the state of finances and funding streams affect everyone in the sector. The more context we can share, the more prepared we can be as an institution to ride out shifts and surprises in the sector.
While it is tempting to leave the bean counting to the bean counters, we hope to share the message that financial sustainability and financial accountability is everybody’s responsibility. The tabling of the Annual Report is a good reminder to us all that we answer to the public as beneficiaries of government funds. It is through using those funds that we deliver our mission to transform lives through education and the creation of new knowledge. A shared focus on a sustainable financial performance allows us the opportunity to invest and grow a strong University into the future.