Report highlights: Universities 2020 audits

What the report is about

Results of the financial statement audits of the public universities in NSW for the year ended 31 December 2020.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued for all ten universities.

Two universities reported retrospective corrections of prior period errors.

Universities were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with student enrolments decreasing in 2020 compared to 2019 by 10,032 (3.3 per cent). Of this decrease 8,310 students were from overseas.

In response to the pandemic, each university provided welfare support, created student hardship funds, provided accommodation and flexibility on payment of course fees. State and Commonwealth governments provided additional support to the sector.

Six universities recorded negative net operating results in 2020 (two in 2019). The combined revenues of the ten universities from fees and charges decreased by $361 million (5.8 per cent).

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will continue to impact the financial results of universities in 2021, enrolments of overseas students in semester one of 2021 increased at two universities. This growth meant that total overseas student enrolments increased by 7,944 or 5.8 per cent across the sector as a whole. However, eight universities experienced decreases in overseas student enrolments compared to semester one of 2020. All universities have experienced growth in domestic student enrolments.

What the key issues were

There were 110 findings reported to universities in audit management letters.

Three high risk findings were identified. One related to the continued work by the University of New South Wales to assess its liability for underpayment of casual staff entitlements. The other two deficiencies were at Charles Sturt University, relating to financial reporting implications of major contracts, and resolving issues identified by an internal review of its employment contracts to reliably quantify the university’s liability to its employees.

What we recommended

Universities should prioritise actions to address repeat findings. Forty-five findings were repeated from 2019, of which 23 related to information technology.

Fast facts

There are ten public universities in NSW with 51 local controlled entities and 23 overseas controlled entities.

  • $10.9bn Total combined revenue in 2020, a decrease of $538.5 million (4.7 per cent) from 2019.
  • 106,984 Overseas student enrolments in 2020, a decrease of 8,310 students (7.2 per cent) from 2019.
  • 3 High risk management letter findings were identified.
  • $11.0bn Total combined expenditure in 2020, a decrease of $147.8 million (0.9 per cent) from 2019.
  • 182,683 Domestic student enrolments in 2020, a decrease of 1,722 students (0.9 per cent) from 2019.
  • 41% Of reported issues were repeat issues.

Further information

Please contact Ian Goodwin, Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.