The University of Wollongong recorded an operating loss of about $40 million according to its interim financial results for the year ending December 31, 2020.
University management said the result revealed "positive progress in UOW's COVID-19 recovery", but expected more pain ahead with substantial recovery efforts set to continue in 2021 and 2022.
According to a university statement, the better than expected result was due to UOW's comprehensive mitigation strategy implemented early in 2020 when the full extent of COVID-19's financial impacts began to emerge.
This "relatively positive outcome under the circumstances", was achieved via tight expenditure controls, it said.
Reductions in non-salary expenditure in the vicinity of $32 million were achieved with significant cuts made to travel and related expenses, student recruitment agent fees, facilities management, utility expenses and catering services.
Around $4 million was saved in salary expenditure, achieved via the variation to enterprise agreements and special additional leave arrangement agreed to by staff in a vote held in July.
Increased funding from the Commonwealth government through its commitment to maintain the Commonwealth Grant Scheme at 2019 levels plus the addition of short course places were another positive.
This combined to boost UOW's income by $13 million during the year.
There were however significant increases in technology costs associated with the pivot to online course delivery and providing about $4 million in grants to support students suffering financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
UOW vice-chancellor Professor Paul Wellings paid tribute to the efforts of staff in achieving such a positive result under difficult circumstances.
"Although these preliminary results are broadly in line with forecasts announced throughout the year by the university's leadership team, no-one should underestimate the efforts and sacrifice made by all staff to reduce expenses and contribute directly to confronting the financial impact of COVID-19," he said.
"While we have made excellent progress together, the job of returning our university to a financially sustainable position and preparing for a post-COVID-19 world is far from finished.
"Efforts to transform our organisation and find further efficiencies will need to continue throughout 2021 and beyond."
Revenue was down an estimated $90 million in 2020 and the university continues to forecast similar reductions for 2021 and 2022.
This is despite the fact there has been increased interest from domestic students considering studying at UOW in 2021 - which has led to student enrolments currently tracking ahead of the same stage of the annual student recruitment cycle in 2020.
However, with borders remaining closed to international students, UOW is expecting far fewer enrolments and income from this group of students in 2021 compared to 2020.
The university has to wait until much closer to the March census date when student enrolments are confirmed, to assess the full extent of income impact.
UOW is preparing for simultaneous on-campus and online course delivery during 2021.
The university is also offering 33 discounted short courses to help Australians retrain, and investing in industry-focused research and innovation aimed at creating new jobs.
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