Report highlights: Universities 2021

What the report is about

Results of the financial statement audits of the public universities in NSW for the year ended 31 December 2021.

What we found

Financial reporting

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for all ten universities.

The University of Wollongong reported the retrospective correction of a prior period error relating to a $169 million contract termination liability.

All universities reported positive net results in 2021 (four in 2020) and each showed improvement from 2020. This was mainly due to expenditure decreasing by a combined $644 million (5.8%) from 2020. Universities implemented redundancy programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a decrease of nearly 2,300 full-time equivalent staff in 2021.

All universities held an investment in Education Australia Limited, which paid to its shareholders a fully franked dividend comprising cash and shares in IDP Education Limited. This increased the combined investment revenues of the universities by $515 million in 2021. However, it affected each university's net result differently depending on elections made in their historical accounting treatment.

Government grants increased by $442 million from 2020, of which $297 million related to the Commonwealth's 2021 additional Research Support Program funding to the NSW universities which was a COVID-19 support measure to the sector.

Over 43% of universities' course fees revenue comes from three countries (39% in 2020). Students from China now represent over half of all overseas student enrolments. A high level of reliance on student revenue from a single country poses a concentration risk for universities.

Internal controls

We reported 105 findings to universities on internal control deficiencies (110 in 2020).

Four high-risk findings were identified (three in 2020), relating to:

  • the status of one university's work in assessing its liability for underpayment of staff
  • IT control deficiencies over privileged user access
  • control deficiencies that resulted in non-recognition of a liability in one university's prior year's financial statements
  • a detailed review of payroll compliance for casual staff, which remains outstanding at one university.

There were 45 repeat findings of control deficiencies in 2021 (45 in 2020). 

All universities have drafted or implemented a cybersecurity policy and established a governance committee accountable for cybersecurity. However, improvements could be made in:

  • recording and monitoring of attempted cyber incidents
  • assessing cyber risks relating to IT vendors
  • implementation of cybersecurity control measures for key systems. 

Four out of 13 entities experienced a significant cyber incident during 2021. 

What we recommended

  • Universities should prioritise actions to address repeat findings on internal control deficiencies, particularly where the issue has been repeated for a number of years.
  • Universities and controlled entities should prioritise improvements to their cybersecurity and resilience.

Fast facts

There are ten public universities in NSW, with 52 controlled entities in Australia and 22 overseas controlled entities.

  • $12b total combined adjusted revenue in 2021, an increase of $1.1 billion (10.5%) from 2020
  • $10.4b total combined expenditure in 2021, a decrease of $644 million (5.8%) from 2020
  • 79,134 overseas student enrolments in 2021, a decrease of 3,138 students (3.8%) from 2020
  • 209,018 domestic student enrolments in 2021, an increase of 1,622 students (0.8%) from 2020
  • 4 high-risk management letter findings were identified (3 in 2020) 
  • 43% of reported issues were repeat issues. 

Further information

Please contact Scott Stanton, Acting Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.