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Thursday, May 6, 2021

ANU deficit better than expected, Vice-Chancellor announces

The Australian National University (ANU) recorded a $162.4 million operating deficit in 2020, “the hardest 12-month period in our 75-year history”, Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt told staff and students today, Friday 23 April.

ANU released key financial results for 2020 ahead of its annual report, which will be formally tabled later in the year as part of the University’s commitment to full transparency about its financial position, Professor Schmidt said.

The $162.4 million operating deficit was a better return than the previous forecast of $219 million under the University’s Recovery Plan, the Vice-Chancellor said.

This was mostly due to better-than-expected tuition income from student retention ($22.7 million) and income from research grants ($27 million). The remainder ($7.1m) was due to accounting adjustments and variances.

“This does not mean we have $57m more than we thought we had,” Professor Schmidt told his staff. “It simply means we have a smaller deficit.”

Although the University’s reported surplus in 2019 was $317 million, the reported accounting loss in 2020 was $17.7 million.

This included insurance proceeds of $91 million for 2018 flood and 2020 hail damage that can only be spent on related repairs; investment returns of $61 million, which can only be used for superannuation and endowments; accounting adjustments of $3.8 million; and deferred superannuation expenses of $11.5 million.

Between 2019 and 2020, the ANU lost: $81 million in tuition fees due to a 21% decrease in international students, to below 2017 levels; $23 million in commercial activity and $172 million in investment revenue due to the pandemic; and $49 million due to completing a super-computer and other revenue items such as consultancy contracts.

The ANU spent $43 million more on salaries; spent $66 million on separation payments; and reduced casual salaries by $9 million. Other non-salary expenditure was reduced by $29 million.

The University spent $20 million more on student accommodation costs to cover students not able to take up residence, and $8 million more on student travel bursaries and scholarships related to the pandemic and student hardship relief.

The Vice-Chancellor said the University did not anticipate losing any more staff than the 467 jobs already modelled in its Recovery Plan.

Professor Schmidt thanked his staff for their unrelenting focus on the University’s core work, in unthinkably challenging circumstances.

“The sacrifices you have all made in the past year have gone a long way towards reducing our deficit and future-proofing the University from further financial shocks,” he said.

“I know the last year has been painful for all of us. But we have a recovery plan in place. It is a solid plan, and our plan is working. These are the first steps to our recovery, and making sure that ANU serves Australia and the world for many decades to come.”

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