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Vic universities triple profits despite student drop .
Victoria ’ s top universities recorded a healthy billion-dollar surplus during the second half of the pandemic despite a steep decline in international student enrolments .
According to a report tabled in state parliament , Victorian universities collectively generated $ 1.2 billion during 2021 , a $ 900,000 increase compared to 2020 .
Monash University and the University of Melbourne recorded the highest financial result , reporting a combined surplus of $ 994.6 million .
The Go8 universities , which posted a modest $ 445.4 million in 2020 , accounted for 80 per cent of the Victorian sector ’ s net revenue in 2021 .
“ The university must continue its careful and prudent approach to financial management ,” Melbourne University ’ s vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell recently told The Age .
Last year ’ s improved financial result can be attributed to a boost in government funding , a sector-wide freeze on non-essential hiring and cuts to casual staff made during Melbourne ’ s lockdowns .
In 2021 , government research grants to Melbourne University increased by $ 110.4 million , with $ 118.2 million allocated to Monash .
During the second year of the pandemic , international student enrolments fell by 19 per cent and domestic student numbers dropped by 1.5 per cent .
The University of Melbourne , however , was the only institution to recover international student numbers by 2 per cent in 2021 .
Dwindling numbers of international students and reliance on federal funding are the greatest future financial risks for universities , the report warned .
“ Despite the financial outcomes improving , universities continue to rely on federal government funding and financial investment returns to support operational expenditure ,” the report said . ■
Uni enrolments down
Are students choosing TAFE over universities ?
University degrees have become increasingly less popular for prospective students according to the latest census data , which showed a 109,000 drop in full-time enrolments in the year to May .
According to the ABS , there has been a 23.6 per cent rise in enrolments in vocational education between 2016 and 2021 , marking a 3.2 per cent decline in university enrolments .
Around 7.2 per cent of the youth population were enrolled in vocational education and training in 2021 , an increase from 5.9 per cent in 2016 .
According to ANU higher education policy expert Andrew Norton , actual enrolment data from 2016 to 2020 showed that vocational education was trending down .
“ I am not yet convinced that the Census is right on this point – but we need the 2021 VET enrolment data , not yet released , to check ,” Norton told Campus Review .
“ In the appendix to a recent paper , I argued that the question-wording in ABS surveys was leading to an undercount of students in vocational education , especially those in private training providers .
“ The 2021 census question was a significant improvement , so I think part of what we are looking at is an increase in accuracy , rather than an increase in actual numbers .”
Universities will have to “ wait and see ” whether the drop in enrolments is due to more young people choosing to work full time , said Norton .
“ The general downward trend in total tertiary students in the labour force survey , also a consequence of fewer international students , suggests no major enrolment reversal .”
More than 1.185 million people were attending Australian universities and other higher education institutions in August last year . ■