Recently, Commonwealth Education Minister Jason Clare announced plans to overhaul Australian universities to reduce their reliance on international students.  In making his announcement, Clare said “That’s the power of education: it changes lives.” 

In many respects Clare is correct; education does changes lives.  But what doesn’t change lives is administration.

The Group of Eight (Go8) represents Australia’s “leading research-intensive universities”.  But looking at the financial accounts for the Go8 members, one might wonder what these universities are really about.  Based on the most recent financial accounts of these 8 universities (sadly, ANU is yet to lodge their 2022 accounts), almost half of their salary expenses have nothing to do with academics – the people who conduct the research and teach the students.  On average, 48% percent of salaries are expended on “non-academic” personnel.  That’s over $4.3 billion a year; on average $11,800 for each of the 365,000 full time equivalent students attending these institutions.  A breathtaking amount.

To put this into context, imagine if a bank spent 50% of its salaries on “non-bankers”, or a construction company spent 50% of its salaries on “non-construction workers”.  The core purpose of a university is to teach students and to undertake research, yet near 50% of its salary expenses are not for this purpose.

According to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, our governments provide about $14,000 in funding per public school student.  At the same time, $11,800 is spent on administration per university student.

No doubt some public school funding is consumed on “non-teaching” resources, but if it was of a similar proportion to that which Universities spend, education outcomes would be even worse.

If Minister Clare wanted to reduce the reliance of universities on foreign students, he should first look at ways to reduce their reliance on administration.

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  1. Punchy, insightful piece, Dimitri. Well done.

    Few businesses would survive with salaries for non-productive staff sitting on 48% of revenue!

    Trimming that back would solve a number of problems simultaneously, including the entrenchment of a class of people hostile to free enterprise and civil liberties.

    I have only the slightest of hope that Labor will do the right thing here. What we’ll see is the worst possible situation under Labor: more taxpayer funds, continued reliance on international students (that’s code for Chinese students) and expansion of non-productive staff.

    Let’s revisit this in 12 months and measure this.


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