University of Sydney’s student-to-staff ratio plummets amid $3.3 billion endowment

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Following revelations that the University of Sydney produced a $1.04 billion surplus last year, the student-to-staff ratio has plummeted to the worst level in at least two decades amid sharp staff cuts and a huge endowment.

Skyrocketing student-to-staff ratio amid sharp staff cuts

Last year saw one of the highest annual increases in student numbers in the last decade at the University, which grew by 23% from 60,868 students in 2020 to 74,862 in 2021.

In other words, this means that the student population of USyd is now larger than that of Coffs Harbour.

Meanwhile, academic and professional staff have suffered significant reductions. The number of teachers fell from 3,743 to 3,514, representing a drop of more than 220 positions, or 6% of all academic staff. This trend is evident across the institution, with austerity measures leading to a 4.5% reduction in academic and professional staff.

This means that the number of academic staff at USyd is at its lowest level in four years since 2018.

This means that the student-to-staff ratio has fallen from 16 to 21 students per teaching staff at the end of 2021, mirroring similar patterns at universities across the country and consolidating a higher education crisis that has arisen over the nine years of government. liberal-national in Australia. Coalition governance.

The drop occurred alongside the decline in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, falling below 1% of the student body in December 2021. This is contrary to the USyd’s assertion that the figure “remained stable”. In response to the year-on-year decline in the number of Indigenous employees, a spokesperson for the University of Sydney said: “It is standard practice in these reports to round figures to the nearest percentage point. closer “.

Subsequently, the University said that the percentage of Indian employees, as of May 2022, now stands at 1.1%.

Capping off a turbulent year for staff, the auditor revealed that the University “reported a liability for underpayment of professional and academic employees of $21.2 million.”

Strong increase in staffing

These cuts took place in the context of a huge surplus and a large endowment for the University. Encouraged by a substantial increase in donations, USyd’s endowment grew to $3.33 billion from $2.24 billion in 2020. This was made possible by the $757 million the University has received as income from private sources, relying in particular on an exponential growth of investments. revenues, which increased from 68.5 million in 2020 to 466 million in 2021.

Needless to say, then, the huge USyd$3.41 billion investment portfolio works its magic in the pursuit of profit. For example, there was a $232 million increase in its equity reserves, which is primarily attributed to the University’s Badgerys Creek site. currently being considered by the NSW Government for Sydney’s second airport.

The University of Sydney’s land holdings also generate significant profits for the institution. Controversial property sales at Camperdown raised $23.2m while the government bought properties on the University’s sprawling Badgerys Creek site for Sydney’s second airport contributed $76.4m to the coffers of ‘USyd.

In context, USyd is now one of the wealthiest universities in the world. If the university were located in Europe, it would easily rank as the third richest institution in Europe behind only Oxford and Cambridge in absolute terms which respectively hold a large endowment of 10.7 and 12.5 billion dollars.

Notable donations the University received in 2021 included $743,000 from David Anstice for nanohealth research and a business scholarship. Anstice served as vice chairman of the board of trustees of the United States Studies Center (USSC) and senior executive of pharmaceutical giant Merck Sharp & Dohme (a foreign arm of Merck & Co) until 2008. The pharmaceutical conglomerate is one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies. worldwide, generating a whopping $54 billion in 2021.

Another is a $564,000 donation from Tom and Denise Yim’s Yim Family Foundation to renew the Colin Phegan Lecture and create a lawyer-in-residence at Sydney Law School – a dramatic increase from the $180,000 that the Yim helped set up the conference in 2013.

Responding to the news, SRC education chief Lia Perkins slammed the ‘huge numbers’, saying ultimately USyd’s huge surplus is the work of staff . In light of this, Perkins argues that a serious and substantial salary increase above inflation must be implemented imminently to recognize the hard work and adaptability of staff over the past few years.

“These [numbers] are safe from all the salary theft that the university does and the overwork that it [USyd] requires staff to do, including all unpaid hours,” Perkins said.

“They [USyd] should take the demand for staff compensation seriously, because what changes our education and improves education is when we have quality teaching or when tutors are actually able to do their jobs.

Going further, Perkins argues that the University’s wealth should be invested in its greatest asset, the student community and staff, rather than funding vanity capital projects.

“It will make a difference rather than using this surplus and this endowment to build new buildings.”

University management cries wolf in New South Wales

Huge surpluses, endowments and booming student-to-staff ratios are now a common narrative among major NSW higher education institutions. University of Technology Sydney (UTS) reported operating surplus of $122 million nearly tripled its 2020 surplus. UTS’s profit was bolstered by a $93 million dividend from Education Australia’s sale of IDP (International Education Specialists) shares.

A similar picture is also unfolding at UNSW, where the institution has confirmed a surplus of $305 million. For UNSW, this follows one of the toughest austerity measures in the country, with the University cutting 721 jobs from its workforce in 2020.

Amid the turmoil, one thing that united major universities was a “smaller than expected” reduction in income for international students. At the start of the pandemic, universities cried foul and cited declining numbers of international students as the rationale for cutting staff. In the early stages of COVID-19, former USyd Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence now the UK’s highest paid VC suggested the university could lose some $470 million.

This prediction never came true.

Contrary to these bleak projections, international student enrollments not only avoided collapsing, but instead increased drastically in 2021. The only organ of the University to bleed was the academic staff and, by extension, the USyd’s vaunted student experience.

From a purely corporate perspective, Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott’s current leadership may appear to be a triumph of conservative caution over teaching excellence. However, the sheer scale of the University of Sydney’s wealth, measured in the billions, lends little credence to the doomsday prophecies relentlessly peddled by Spence, Scott and their counterparts. Faced with the 2020 Job-Ready Graduates Package (JRG), Universities Australia compromised and agreed to fee hikes in exchange for minor changes.

It’s no wonder that university executives have an adversarial relationship with those who hold them accountable, including student activists and the National Union of Higher Education (NTEU), who are currently negotiating a new company agreement.

Last month, the Coalition was replaced by the Albanian Labor government. Time will tell if Labor will undo the cuts imposed on the sector over the past nine years. Ahead of the election, Labor proposed free TAFE, increased university places for underrepresented communities and a deal on Australia’s universities to reform the sector. The last of these, the Accord, remains to be interpreted as Albanese seeks to “provide accessibility, affordability, quality, certainty, sustainability and prosperity” to universities.

It would be wise for Albanese to take stock of the crisis in student-to-staff ratios, chronic precariousness and cuts in higher education funding among the issues the Accord and his ministry must tackle.

Meanwhile, on the USyd campus, Perkins’ words perhaps best sum up what it takes for the student community to push back against the conservatism gripping Australian higher education: “We should react very seriously “.

Perkins does not underestimate the challenges ahead, knowing that it will take substantial student political will to mobilize and organize against the moribund status quo.

“This will include things like supporting staff when they go on strike, showing other students the demands of staff, casualization at the university and converting casuals into permanent jobs. The task now is to fight for it, by any means necessary in the streets. »

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