Higher Education Funding Cuts
I had intended to write another blog post sooner than this but the government’s announcement of cuts to the higher education budget consumed quite a bit of oxygen over the last few weeks. To reiterate the message I sent to all CSU staff in an e-mail, while these are serious cuts and will cause pain they are not large enough to threaten our viability nor to divert us from our strategy. As a reminder the impact on our income will be $6.5m per year from 2015 onwards and we will need to find ways to fill this hole. Also a reminder that it comes on top of previous cuts in last year’s Mid-Year Funding Adjustments. At this stage we expect some of this to be met through general budget restraint, some through targetted efficiency measures and some through increased revenue. Needless to say it is also going to put pressure on our ability to provide wage increases. I think it is very important that politicians from all sides are reminded that voters understand the importance of universities and I would encourage anyone who does to complete the online petition at the Smartest Investment Website.
‘Your Voice’ Staff Survey
For CSU staff the most important message at the moment is about the Your Voice Survey. This is the fourth time that we have run the survey, the previous occasions being in 2003, 2006 and 2010. From previous experience, the detailed results will provide a rich picture of how staff are feeling across the university. At the summary level two combined indices, the Passion/Engagement Index and the Progress Index are used as Key Performance Indicator for Council to assess the performance of the university and myself as Vice-Chancellor. The first of these is a composite of job satisfaction, organisational commitment and intention to stay and the second is a composite of change and innovation, customer satisfaction and organisational objectives. Whilst I don’t doubt there will be things we will need to attend to I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of this survey and encourage all CSU staff to fill it in.
NSW Teacher Reforms ‘Great Teaching, Inspired Learning’
Another potentially painful impact is the NSW Government’s ‘Great Teaching Inspired Learning’ (GTIL) Blueprint. The plan to reform teacher education in NSW has many very positive points, not least professional development support for teachers once they are in practice. An area of concern for us is in relation to entry standards into teaching degrees. The key issue is really the proposal to require three Band 5 results for direct entry into teacher education. Not too many regional students who currently apply for teacher education achieve this. We know that regional students tend to perform relatively less well in the HSC and we are concerned that it might disadvantage regional and rural students as well as creating workforce supply problems in the future.
We are still working through the implications of this but it does have the potential to affect CSU students and education courses significantly. One possibility is that students might be diverted through a double degree to give them time to develop equivalent achievement levels. This might in fact require little additional time so may prove to be a good solution for both students and communities. The GTIL Blueprint does flag that there may need to be additional access routes for regional and Indigenous students so this may be the solution and we will continue to work with the State Government on this.
CSU Financial Results for 2012
CSU’s Annual Accounts for 2012 have been audited and submitted to State Parliament. These were completed a week early and credit is due to Executive Director Finance Paul Dowler and the team in Finance for achieving this. One of the key indicators of financial health is the surplus reported through these accounts. The normal target for not-for-profit organisations is to aim for a surplus of between 3 and 5%. Without this you are in fact starting to run the organisation down because you will be unable to maintain funds to invest in replacement of buildings and infrastructure. Also you will lack a buffer against unexpected expenses or drops in revenue. Our target is to aim for a surplus of over 3%. The surplus figure also needs a bit of unpicking because the accounting standards mean that there are some distortions in the ‘headline’ surplus. First, we are required to include capital money received from the government, which is spent directly on infrastructure, as revenue. However, the expenditure is recorded as an increase in asset values on the university’s balance sheet and therefore does not appear as expenditure. This distorts the bottom line and gives an inflated indication of financial health. Revaluation of our investments is also included and there has been quite a bit of volatility in this following the Global Financial Crisis. In 2012, the headline surplus was $22.9m but the adjusted surplus was about half this at $11.6m or 2.65%. This is below our target range and is a function of the fact that our student load has started to level off from a peak of commencements in 2010. This explanation is important because we are not starting from a position where we can simply absorb the Federal Government cuts.
Practice-Based Education Summit
I wanted to talk a little about the Practice-Based Education Summit organised by EFPI. This fortunately aligned with other engagements I had in Sydney which meant that I was able to attend the majority of it. I really enjoyed this summit and found a lot of parallels between the research discussed and the writing that I have been doing about organisational soul and leadership. I also gave the first poster presentation of my career having managed to somehow avoid this early in my academic life. The most important lesson I learned from this was to ignore the conference organisers when they tell you to print at A3. However, it also led to useful discussions with a number of the participants for which I thank them.
University Council endorsed a revised business plan for the Ontario campus earlier this year. We plan to expand on the ground numbers at the campus as well as using it as a base for increasing our distance load in Canada. I visited our Ontario Campus in Canada at the end of April and had very good discussions with stakeholders and the Provincial Government about our future. It was interesting to see that as national and provincial budgets tighten, Canadian governments are also cutting back funding to higher education. Canadian institutions are now looking very much harder at international students and this will increase competition for Australian university student recruitment.
Welcome to Tim Wess, Executive Dean Science
I would like to close by welcoming Professor Tim Wess, our new Executive Dean of Science to the University. Tim comes to us from University of Cardiff in the UK and we are very much looking forward to working with him. Tim will be based at the Wagga Wagga campus but will be getting around to other campuses in the usual CSU way.