Unions are arguing staff are paying the cost for university expansion

THE University of Newcastle has raised a total of $336 million in annual surpluses since 2012 while some executive pay rises have hit double digit figures, says a union arguing major expansion has come at the expense of staff investment.

Newcastle’s $80 million surplus in 2016 was the second-highest of any Australian university and more than double the Australian average as a proportion of income, said the National Tertiary Education Union in a report, Rude Health, released on Friday more than a year after the start of negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

Huge annual surpluses ranging from $37 million to $80 million occurred as the share of income invested directly in staff dropped from 55 per cent in 2013 to 52 per cent in 2016, while the percentage of casual and contract staff grew, said the union. The university said the surpluses represented its financial position at a point in time and were not cumulative.

Annual reports show the vice-chancellor’s remuneration package increased from $597,000 to $872,000 since 2012, while other senior executives had annual remuneration increases of up to 15 per cent.

Vision: An open day at the University of Newcastle's $95 million New Space building in Hunter Street.

Vision: An open day at the University of Newcastle's $95 million New Space building in Hunter Street.

During the same period professional and academic staff and teachers received annual pay increases of 4 and 3 per cent under an enterprise bargaining agreement that expired in June, 2017.

The union on Friday called on the university to resolve outstanding claims under current negotiations, including better conditions for casual and contract staff, full superannuation for all staff and paid family violence leave separate from existing personal leave. The log of claims includes a 15 per cent salary increase by October, 2020, which the university has calculated will cost $160 million.

A university spokesperson said staff currently had 25 days personal leave each year which could be used “to attend to matters of domestic violence”.

The union accused the university of using “continual restructuring and squeezing of operating budgets” to accrue annual surpluses while it completed major projects, including its expansion away from Callaghan campus into the central business district with the $95 million New Space education precinct.

Continual restructuring and squeezing of operating budgets is not sustainable and comes at considerable cost to staff and students.

University of Newcastle Associate Professor Tom Griffiths

“University management, year after year, extracts large surpluses from regular operations. At the same time investment in staff as a proportion of income has been trending down. Compared to other universities, Newcastle invests a significantly smaller proportion of its income in staff,” the union’s Newcastle branch president Associate Professor Tom Griffiths said.

“Continual restructuring and squeezing of operating budgets is not sustainable and comes at considerable cost to staff and students. As is widely understood, staff working conditions are student learning conditions.”

While the university acknowledged its excellent education and research performance was due to the hard work and efforts of staff, “enterprise bargaining provides management the opportunity to recognise this in real terms”, Associate Professor Griffiths said.

The union was “keen to ensure at a minimum that staff do not receive a ‘real’ pay cut over the next three years, with inflation projections pretty consistent from all reputable sources like the Reserve Bank of Australia at around 2.5 per cent”.

In a statement the university said the total investment in its ongoing academic workforce had grown by 6.8 per cent since 2015. The NSW Auditor-General’s report for 2017 placed Newcastle in the middle of the NSW university sector.

The 2017 surplus included “a range of non-operating philanthropic and grand funds”, of which $19.7 million was already committed to research and scholarships.  

“The University of Newcastle must continue to address the legacy issues of underinvestment in infrastructure, both capital and digital,” the spokesperson said.

“Given the uncertainty of the higher education funding environment, most recently impacted by the MYEFO (mid-year economic and fiscal outlook) funding cap, it is important that we do not lose sight of the trend in underlying expenditure, which is increasing in an environment in which our underlying domestic student revenue is constrained by current government policy.” 

This story Big figures: University of Newcastle surpluses and executive salaries first appeared on Newcastle Herald.