Charles Sturt University has not confirmed if it has undertaken an independent and external audit of its financial position after its council passed a resolution to do so in June, raising serious concerns as the university announces cuts to courses and staff in an internal restructure.
Federal Regional Education Minister Andrew Gee said the Council of Charles Sturt University almost unanimously voted in favour of the audit on June 2.
The audit would assess the impact of the university’s Sustainable Futures Program and include a pre, during, and post COVID-19 data analysis of student enrolments.
The council resolved that the auditor would report back to the council with results to be sent to the Australian and New South Wales governments.
Mr Gee said he had been informed that accounting firms were examining some aspects of its operations but this was not in line with the terms agreed to by the council.
“This is troubling and concerning,” he said.
“The resolution specifically stated that the audit would be undertaken to ensure community confidence and government trust in the university’s finances and forward projections.
“The work carried out to date falls well short of the comprehensive resolution passed by its council.”
When Charles Sturt University was asked whether an independent, external audit was under way, a university spokesperson did not directly respond to the question.
It comes after the university announced it would phase out 48 courses and cut more than 300 staff as part of its restructure.
The university previously reported that its deficit blew out to $49.5 million in 2020, prompting the establishment of the Sustainable Futures program to systematically look at cuts to staffing levels and courses in every division, department and location.
The university will phase out 20 course offerings which have no student enrolments and 28 entire courses with low student enrolments. It will “revitalise” seven courses to make them more attractive to prospective students and make changes to the modes or locations of 61 other offerings.
Acting vice-chancellor professor John Germov said in a statement that 4 per cent of current students were enrolled in courses approved for changes and that these courses would be taught out.
“Overall, these changes will strengthen our financial position, meet the needs of our regional communities and deliver a better experience for our students,” he said.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Engagement) professor Heather Cavanagh told a Senate inquiry into COVID-19 on Tuesday the university restructure would have happened regardless of the pandemic.
“For us, I think, the biggest impact has been things that have been coming for a long time. Regional universities have grown phenomenally,” she said.
“We have, in some areas, grown too fast and expanded too thin. Then COVID hit. So it’s more like a perfect storm, rather than a single factor.”
Professor Cavanagh said more than 100 staff members had lost their jobs in the first round of cuts with more than 200 further full-time equivalent jobs expected to be cut in September.
She said even if the university sector had been eligible for the JobKeeper payment, this wouldn’t have prevented the job cuts.
When asked to confirm the number of jobs that would be made redundant, a university spokesperson said between 100 and 110 full-time equivalent jobs were identified for redundancy in June but there was no final number on how many positions would be affected.
“It is too early to say exactly what the impacts to budget and roles will be and we are committed to the well-being of our staff,” the spokesperson said.
Professor Cavanagh told the inquiry the impact of losing international students because of COVID-19 travel restrictions had been minimal for the university.
She said about 350 international students enrolled on regional campuses, 7000 were based in study centres in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane run in partnership with Study Group Australia and only five Chinese students were currently enrolled.