UQ faces half billion dollar loss if pandemic drags on

QUEENSLAND'S premier sandstone university stands to lose half a billion in revenue if the coronavirus crisis drags on, its Vice-Chancellor has warned staff.

But UQ's Peter Hoj, who has increased his donations to needy students to 20 per cent of his $1.2 million salary, said responsible financial management in recent years had returned the university's budget to surplus and cutbacks in February had saved $100 million already.

"The University also took steps early this year to reduce operating costs and postpone capital expenditure due to the anticipated impact of COVID-19 on revenue,'' he said in a statement to Westside News.

"This impact could continue for Semester 2, and into next year.

"Our focus will remain on continuing to deliver high quality education for our students in the changed environment, and to deliver on our research commitments.''

About 51 per cent of UQ's student fees come from overseas students, many of them Chinese, making it one of the most exposed in the country

Its recent Census showed that while domestic student numbers remained steady, there was a 20 per cent drop in international students.

Prof Hoj said "incredible work done by our staff'' to move classes online had greatly helped the university respond to the crisis and keep students enrolments up.

"We know this will be a tough year for our students and we are already seeing an increased number access our hardship schemes,'' he told staff in an email.


"I know some of you are creating change through donations to our philanthropic campaign. "Helping those most in need to access a world-class education is something I am passionate about and have personally supported since I arrived at UQ.

"I have increased my fortnightly contribution to 20 per cent of my salary.''

Despite the measures taken by the university to adjust, he warned staff of a massive hit to finances this term.

"I want to be open with you about the challenges that lie ahead. In addition to a reduction in teaching revenue, we are also seeing decreased revenue in other areas such as research and philanthropy,'' Prof Hoj said.

"Our next challenge is our student numbers for Semester 2 and into Semester 1, 2021.

"So much uncertainty exists around the longevity of current restrictions, it is difficult to predict where our numbers might land.

"We estimate our 2020 drop in revenue at best could be $240m, but could easily be double that.''

So far there have been no major job losses, or salary freezes, but Prof Hoj warned he would have to continue monitoring operating costs to "ensure every dollar spent is driving a return for the university''.

As well as restrictions on travel and other costs in February, the university has deferred $120 million in capital spending.

"This includes deferring planned building refurbishments, the commencement of the new Health and Recreation precinct and some technology projects,'' he said.

The university was also asking staff to register on UQ Marketplace, a platform to help transfer skills to where they were most needed.

The warning to staff came after the university's 2020 annual report, tabled in state Parliament earlier this month, foreshadowed losses of $100-$200 million.

Foreign students paid $679 million in fees last year, according to the report, with 78 per cent from China, Singapore, Malaysia, the US, Hong Kong and India.

UQ was criticised for its"over-reliance'' on Chinese students in a Centre for Independent Studies report last year that warned the uni risked a taxpayer-funded bailout if the market collapsed.




Originally published as UQ faces half billion dollar loss if pandemic drags on

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