A new report from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute shows that Australian university profits plummeted by $1.6 billion to just $669 million in 2020.

Australian Investment in Higher Education 2021
report shows 15 of the 38 universities included in the analysis reported a deficit in 2020. However, most struggled to break even with the majority of the sector surpluses held by just three institutions.

Report author Dr Peter Hurley from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute said 2020 was not as bad as expected, but warns the worst is still to come.

“Our analysis suggests there are some very dark clouds on the horizon,” he said. “Special government support for the sector ends in 2021. Continuing border closures mean international student revenue is likely to continue to fall well into 2022 and 2023.”

Dr Hurley said international enrolments were falling by 20-25% per year.

“Every missed six-monthly intake of international students is costing universities about $1 billion to $1.25 billion.”

Most of the universities that didn’t post a deficit barely broke even. Almost all the sector’s surpluses were concentrated in Australia's three largest universities – Monash University (A$267 million), University of Melbourne (A$178 million) and University of Sydney (A$107 million).

“This suggests that it is the smaller and less prestigious universities that are finding the conditions the toughest,” Dr Hurley said.

Smaller universities are more likely to cater to the average Australian student.

“Without further support, parts of the university sector are likely to face very difficult choices that will mean further cuts to staffing, courses and research.”

Previous reports from the Mitchell Institute have highlighted that Australian students’ educational experience is likely subsidised by revenue from international students.

University revenue by type & change from 2019 ($ millions)

Table 1: New South Wales

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
Charles Sturt University $569.2 -$54.6 $19.0 $14.2 $113.5 -$42.6
Macquarie University $974.1 -$62.4 -$52.7 -$54.2 $301.9 -$25.5
The University of Newcastle $794.9 -$48.4 $5.9 -$59.8 $113.7 -$9.6
Southern Cross University $291.3 -$26.5 -$2.8 -$18.7 $75.0 -$24.5
The University of New England $347.9 $2.9 -$19.0 -$14.1 $28.2 -$0.1
The University of New South Wales $2,162.2 -$198.2 -$24.2 -$55.7 $671.4 -$104.9
The University of Sydney $2,644.4 -$126.9 $106.6 -$73.3 $1,105.2 $31.2
University of Technology, Sydney $1,058.8 -$51.4 -$43.1 -$71.0 $366.8 -$42.8
Western Sydney University $887.9 -$31.6 $22.0 $2.7 $148.8 -$16.5
University of Wollongong $620.3 -$78.3 -$52.8 -$70.6 $144.6 -$37.4
Total for New South Wales $10,351.0 -$675.5 -$41.1 -$400.6 $3,068.9 -$272.7

Table 2: Victoria

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
Federation University Australia $343.3 -$69.5 $3.9 -$33.3 $125.2 -$60.1
Deakin University $1,224.0 -$111.4 $32.1 -$76.4 $395.8 -$21.5
La Trobe University $786.2 -$86.9 -$51.5 -$71.0 $159.2 -$44.0
The University of Melbourne $2,664.1 -$241.2 $178.2 -$176.9 $845.6 -$69.4
Monash University $2,705.7 -$113.2 $267.3 $34.7 $982.6 -$32.7
RMIT University $1,308.4 -$68.0 -$78.7 -$122.3 $454.4 -$74.0
Swinburne University of Technology $745.2 -$36.2 -$35.7 -$69.8 $150.1 -$32.0
Victoria University $474.3 -$15.6 $5.7 -$25.0 $99.0 -$10.1
Total for Victoria $10,251.2 -$742.0 $321.4 -$540.0 $3,211.9 -$343.8

Table 3: Queensland

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
Central Queensland University $450.0 -$42.7 -$33.2 -$36.6 $122.3 -$55.7
Griffith University $967.8 -$74.5 -$5.1 -$58.4 $189.6 -$6.5
James Cook University $476.5 -$33.3 $14.0 $3.5 $73.9 -$9.4
Queensland University of Technology $1,054.2 -$119.7 $25.2 -$64.2 $221.2 -$27.0
University of the Sunshine Coast $321.6 $7.9 $24.1 $4.0 $46.3 -$18.3
The University of Queensland $2,119.6 -$99.3 $82.9 -$50.4 $648.9 -$37.6
University of Southern Queensland $345.0 $13.9 $12.6 $6.9 $48.7 $1.5
Total for Queensland $5,734.5 -$347.7 $120.5 -$195.3 $1,350.8 -$153.1

Table 4: Western Australia

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
Curtin University of Technology $902.7 -$78.2 -$1.1 -$84.1 $160.9 -$7.0
Edith Cowan University $477.2 -$9.8 $23.7 -$13.2 $119.8 $1.7
Murdoch University $378.7 -$20.8 -$11.0 -$31.1 $80.6 -$4.3
The University of Notre Dame Australia $198.9 $6.8 -$5.0 $0.1 $6.3 $2.1
The University of Western Australia $968.9 -$100.7 $58.1 -$54.9 $139.7 -$13.0
Total for Western Australia $2,926.4 -$202.7 $64.7 -$183.1 $507.3 -$20.5

Table 5: South Australia

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
University of Adelaide $976.9 -$5.9 $40.8 -$1.7 $254.1 -$3.5
Flinders University $532.2 -$1.3 $37.8 $12.4 $102.4 $2.7
University of South Australia $696.1 $3.6 $21.1 -$0.3 $150.0 $1.3
Total for South Australia $2,205.2 -$3.6 $99.7 $10.5 $506.6 $0.6

Table 6: Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
Australian National University $1,297.5 -$228.1 -$17.7 -$323.5 $249.0 -$83.6
University of Canberra $312.4 -$5.4 $29.4 $9.9 $69.5 $1.6
Total for ACT $1,609.9 -$233.5 $11.7 -$313.5 $318.5 -$82.1

Table 7: Tasmania

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
University of Tasmania $712.9 -$65.1 $18.0 -$55.2 $130.1 -$11.1
Total for Tasmania $712.9 -$65.1 $18.0 -$55.2 $130.1 -$11.1

Table 8: Northern Territory

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
Charles Darwin University $308.3 $34.4 $42.8 $51.7 $50.6 $12.3
Total for Northern Territory $308.3 $34.4 $42.8 $51.7 $50.6 $12.3

Table 9: Australia-wide

University Total revenue Change from 2019 Net operating result Change from 2019 Fee-paying overseas students Change from 2019
Australian Catholic University $548.1 -$14.2 $31.4 -$14.2 $78.7 $2.3
Overall total for all Australian universities $34,647.5 -$2,284.5 $669.0 -$1,637.0 $9,223.5 -$868.1

Source: DESE and 2020 university annual reports
Note: All data converted to 2020 dollars using CPI.