The Australian National University's financial position plunged by $334 million last year as it shed hundreds of jobs in response to the the COVID-19 pandemic.
University management claims the institution was in a worse position compared to other Australian universities because of a strategy to decrease the student cohort while increasing academic staff to improve the student experience.
The university revealed a $162.4 million operational deficit for 2020, which was better than the $219 million deficit initially forecast.
The tertiary education union has called on the institution to pull back on job cuts, raising concerns of staffing levels as enrolment numbers held up better than initially anticipated.
The biggest hits came from a $172 million reduction in expected investment income, an $81 million drop in international student fees compared to 2019 and a $23 million drop in revenue from commercial activities on campus.
While travel costs were down because of COVID-19 restrictions, $28 million was spent on assistance for stranded international students.
Student retention was better than expected despite the campus being mostly closed and courses being delivered online. As a result, the university made $22.7 million more from tuition fees than expected.
It also earned an extra $27 million in research grants and consultancy fees than previously forecast.
The ANU's reportable deficit amounted to $17.7 million, which included $61.4 million of income from interest, dividends and capital appreciation and $91 million in insurance payouts from damage caused by flooding in 2018 and the severe hailstorm in 2020.
In a letter to staff, vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said the revenue from the university's $1.2 billion long-term investment portfolio could only be used on endowments and superannuation expenses, not for general operating costs.
"This has been the hardest 12-month period in our 75-year history and I know you are all working extremely hard to steer the university towards a brighter future," Professor Schmidt said.
University officials calculated a drop of $334 million in 2020 compared to a surplus of $317 million in 2019.
However, the 2019 annual report showed a $300.3 million operational surplus and a $43.6 million underlying surplus, which included investments, donations and capital grants.
The ANU shed 467 full-time equivalent staff as part of its recovery plan, not including casuals.
It spent $66 million on separation payments and transition costs last year and a further $25 million is expected to paid out in 2021.
National Tertiary Education Union ANU branch president Simon Copland said hundreds of job losses had increased pressure on workers.
"Can ANU guarantee there will be enough staff to service the number of students, when enrolment is higher than anticipated?
"ANU staff are already overworked, with 10 per cent of non-casual staff gone already, plus hundreds of casual jobs.
About three-quarters of the jobs lost were professional positions and a quarter were academics.
At the end of December, the university had 4209 full-time equivalent staff on its payroll.
An ANU spokesman said no further cuts were expected and recovery plans were in place for each college and division.
"Individual plans are staggered and progressive and all fit within the broader proposed staff reduction of 467."
A change in enrolment and staffing policy has meant the institution has not weathered the COVID-19 financial storm as well as other public universities.
In recent years the ANU has pursued a strategy of reducing the total students intake - and reducing its reliance on international students, especially from China - while boosting the ratio of academic staff to students.
To fill the revenue void, the university is hoping to grow income from research contracts and consulting services with governments and other organisations. It will also expand micro-credential courses and short courses.
NTEU ACT secretary Cathy Day slammed the university's plan to decrease student numbers as "poor management" and said job cuts "spread across the entire university" could have been better handled.
"There is concern and angst from staff who don't know who's next on the chopping block," she said.
Dr Day said there was concerns of burn out and fatigue among staff as many of the jobs lost were support staff, placing extra burden on remaining employees.
"Staff being overworked will flow on to poor student experience," Dr Day said.
ANU has plans to borrow up to $615 million, a spokesman said half of that had been used so far on capital investments, technology and separation payments.
"We anticipated borrowing an additional $243 million for these purposes. We are in the process of reviewing the amount that we need to borrow based on our 2020 results and what we expect in 2021," the spokesman said.
The university is recruiting business development experts to help commercialise its research and achieve its goal of producing a $1 billion unicorn company within five years.
The university is expecting to run at an operating loss each year until 2023.
The ANU has submitted its 2020 annual report to Education Minister Alan Tudge and got permission to share its financial position before the report is tabled in parliament.
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