COVID-19 update: financial impact on UOW

On Thursday 23 April, 2020, University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings CBE, issued the following e-mail to all staff explaining the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the University.

Date:  23 April 2020 at 4.00 pm

Subject: Financial impact of COVID-19

Dear Colleagues

The world is now experiencing its greatest crisis in generations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is affecting every aspect of our daily lives in one way or another.  Every individual, community, state, country and organisation is impacted.

The health and wellbeing of you and our students has been the constant focus of the University’s response.

Your contributions and professionalism in responding to the crisis have been extraordinary.  You have swiftly moved to remote learning delivery for our students and I know many of you have transitioned to working from home with all the impacts on work/life balance that brings.  Please accept my heartfelt thanks again for all that you have done and continue to do to keep UOW going in such challenging circumstances.

We unfortunately must now confront the other major impact of this global pandemic. 

The census date has now passed and I am writing to advise you that the University is facing significant revenue loss because of reduced onshore international student enrolments and associated impacts.

We think that the 2020 losses will be with us for a number of years as a consequence of the scale of the recession and the limitations on the movement of people across international borders.  At this stage we believe UOW is facing a budget shortfall of about $90 million linked to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and its ongoing impact on student recruitment.  This not only has an immediate impact on our 2020 budget, but has compounding effects for subsequent years

In early February UOW acted very quickly to mitigate loss.  We have already taken steps to ensure the University’s short-term liquidity including sourcing additional bank borrowings, introducing expenditure controls across many parts of our operations and severely restricting expenditure on capital items including refurbishments, equipment and maintenance and placed further controls on project consultancy expenditure.  These controls will remain in place for at least the next 18 months.

These measures alone will not be sufficient to deal with the 2020-23 budget scenarios.  It is essential that we take additional measures to safeguard UOW from the growing economic impact.

In this context, I personally will be taking a pay cut of 20% effective immediately for the next 12 months.  All Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Executive Deans and the Chief Operating Officer have also decided to follow my lead and take a pay cut also of 20% for the next 12 months.  

We have also determined that all non-essential external recruitment (not attached to external funding) will cease.  In addition, study leave applications approved to date will be reviewed to ensure each remains financially and academically viable in these unusual circumstances.  No further approvals will be made for study leave for the remainder of this year or for 2021.  We will also not be proceeding with the academic promotions round for 2020 with these to re-commence in 2021.

How we sustain our University through 2020 and beyond depends greatly on the actions we implement immediately.  For this reason we are asking everyone to consider other ways they may contribute to the University’s financial sustainability; including considering a temporary and proportionate reduction in your salary and/or working hours or taking annual and/or long service leave.

If we do not act now, our ability to influence outcomes in the medium term will be severely compromised.  Given the current public health restrictions there will be no return to normal in 2020 or 2021.  It is essential that we take measures to safeguard our institution from the growing economic impact to ensure the sustainability of our University. 

You may be aware that discussions about employment conditions are occurring nationally to help navigate a course to reduce employment costs to universities in order to preserve jobs in the higher education sector.  I am hopeful that a national framework will be established between universities and unions that will aid discussion about variations to working conditions that will curb costs and preserve employment for as many staff as possible. 

As you may know, any changes to enterprise agreements must be approved and voted on by all staff covered by our agreements.  Some options could arise from these national discussions.  I will provide more information about how we will engage with you in the coming weeks.

I fully appreciate the ramifications of the above measures, however they are essential if we are to sustain our operations and to ensure that UOW has the necessary capacity to continue to be a research-led and globally recognised university.  The choices we make in the coming weeks will influence all of us.  History will show whether we moved swiftly and cohesively to keep the shape of an institution which is so important to the social and economic future of NSW.

Again, my thanks to you each for the commitment to our University you have shown under such difficult circumstances in recent months, and that you continue to display daily for the benefit of our students, your colleagues and our communities.

With best wishes

Professor Paul Wellings CBE


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