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The financial health of Australian universities: policy implications in a changing environment

The financial health of Australian universities: policy implications in a changing environment In the context of the Australian Government’s attempts to impose budget austerity measures on publicly funded universities in its higher education sector, the purpose of this paper is to assess the sector’s financial health.Design/methodology/approachThe multi-dimensional study is based on seven years of government financial data from all 39 publicly funded Australian universities, supplemented by information from universities’ annual reports. Using a financial health model that reflects vulnerability, viability and resilience, the authors examine sector data using a suite of metrics. The authors analyse differences between those universities in the Top 10 and Bottom 10 by revenue, as a window into the financial health of the sector at large.FindingsWhile mostly financially viable, the sector shows signs of financial vulnerability, particularly in the areas of expense control and financial sustainability. Possibly in response to an uncertain funding environment, universities are managing long-term liquidity by growing reserves. Debt represents largely untapped potential for universities, while differences between the Top 10 and Bottom 10 universities were most evident in the area of revenue diversity, a strong predictor of financial viability.Research limitations/implicationsFocussing on a specific set of financial metrics limits the scope of the study, but highlights further research possibilities. These include more detailed statistical analysis of data, financial case studies of individual universities and the implications of revenue diversification on academic standards.Originality/valueThe paper contributes to higher education literature, providing empirical evidence of universities’ finances. It highlights the importance of universities’ financial resilience in an uncertain funding environment. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal Emerald Publishing

The financial health of Australian universities: policy implications in a changing environment

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
© Emerald Publishing Limited
ISSN
0951-3574
DOI
10.1108/aaaj-03-2018-3391
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

In the context of the Australian Government’s attempts to impose budget austerity measures on publicly funded universities in its higher education sector, the purpose of this paper is to assess the sector’s financial health.Design/methodology/approachThe multi-dimensional study is based on seven years of government financial data from all 39 publicly funded Australian universities, supplemented by information from universities’ annual reports. Using a financial health model that reflects vulnerability, viability and resilience, the authors examine sector data using a suite of metrics. The authors analyse differences between those universities in the Top 10 and Bottom 10 by revenue, as a window into the financial health of the sector at large.FindingsWhile mostly financially viable, the sector shows signs of financial vulnerability, particularly in the areas of expense control and financial sustainability. Possibly in response to an uncertain funding environment, universities are managing long-term liquidity by growing reserves. Debt represents largely untapped potential for universities, while differences between the Top 10 and Bottom 10 universities were most evident in the area of revenue diversity, a strong predictor of financial viability.Research limitations/implicationsFocussing on a specific set of financial metrics limits the scope of the study, but highlights further research possibilities. These include more detailed statistical analysis of data, financial case studies of individual universities and the implications of revenue diversification on academic standards.Originality/valueThe paper contributes to higher education literature, providing empirical evidence of universities’ finances. It highlights the importance of universities’ financial resilience in an uncertain funding environment.

Journal

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability JournalEmerald Publishing

Published: Aug 8, 2019

Keywords: Australian higher education sector; Financial health; Budget austerity; Higher education funding policy

References