Unions representing academic and professional staff at the University of Wollongong have queried whether UOW is doing as bad financially as it claims.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and Community and Public Sector Union CPSU NSW questioned the true state of UOW's finances, following an analysis undertaken by Distinguished Professor of Accounting at Macquarie University, James Guthrie.
Professor Guthrie indicated that UOW's $48 million deficit was an artefact of business-style accounting rules that have allowed UOW to claim millions of dollars in expenses against assets acquired for free.
His analysis of the university's financial health, which focused on funds flows, indicated that UOW had a $10m surplus in 2020.
A UOW spokesperson denied these claims, adding the COVID-19 pandemic continued to have a significant impact on the Australian and global higher education sector, including on the University of Wollongong.
"There are a number of incorrect observations and conclusions in the report by Distinguished Professor Guthrie. For example, international student fees dropped by $50 million - not $27.7 million as reported; employee related expenses increased by $18 million - not $27 million as reported," the UOW spokesperson said.
"The finalised and audited accounts published in the University's annual report indicate the scale of the financial challenge at UOW.
"Through prudent financial management and by working with staff and unions UOW has been able to mitigate some, but not all, of the financial impacts of the pandemic."
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CPSU NSW assistant branch secretary, Troy Wright said UOW needed to reveal its real financial situation and work with the unions to find a plan which can secure jobs and return pay and conditions.
This view was backed by NTEU UOW branch president Fiona Probyn-Rapsey.
"Staff have made sacrifices of pay and conditions over the last year, we have seen too many colleagues leave in restructure after restructure. There is great concern that the cuts to staffing have simply been too deep. Now we want to know what the true state of UOW finances is - and not just a paper 'deficit' that is ascertained through depreciation and amortisation," she said.
The spokesperson added UOW provided regular updates of its financial position to unions.
"A further financial briefing with unions is scheduled to occur on 16 September at which time more detailed information about student enrolments for 2021 and 2022 will be known. The university has responded in writing to questions put to it by the NTEU," the spokesperson said.
"Unfortunately, the university's financial position has not significantly improved to the extent that it would seek to remove the cost savings achieved through the enterprise agreement variations.
"The university's priority is to safeguard the financial sustainability of the university and maintain the quality of its research and student experience while preserving as much employment as possible."
But Prof Probyn-Rapsey was seeking more clarity around the recent plans to sell-off assets and how the revenue will be used.
"We'd like to see it go towards halting any further staff cuts and towards rebuilding our community, including restoring staff pay and conditions and filling gaps where the cuts have been too dee," she said.