Universities Spend Billions Each Year To Not Teach Students

Written by:
13 June 2024
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“The core business of a university is to teach and undertake research, yet Australian universities are spending billions of dollars employing a rapidly growing army of administrators, highlighting how bureaucracy is now the top priority of our failing tertiary education system,” said Dr Bella d’Abrera, Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs.

New research released today by the IPA analyses federal education department data on university staffing between 1996 and 2023. The research shows: (tables over page)

  • Australian universities employed 66,577 people in non-academic roles, such as administrators, accounting for more than half (57 per cent) of all university employees.
  • Since 1996, non-academic staffing at universities has increased by 72 per cent, compared to an increase of 47 per cent in academic staffing.
  • In the latest reporting periods, Australia’s most prominent universities—the Group of Eight—spent $3.2 billion per annum on non-academic staff salaries.

“Instead of blithely pouring even more money into universities, governments must look at structural reform to improve standards, and put students and research at the centre of Australia’s university system,” said Dr d’Abrera.

“It is astonishing that Vice Chancellors continually cry poor when they are spending billions of dollars on employing administrators and not improving teacher or educational quality for university students.”

“When you have more administrators than academics in universities it clearly demonstrates a culture that is more interested in growing and sustaining a bureaucracy for its own benefit, rather than educating students and advancing research,” said Dr d’Abrera.

In the 2024-25 budget, the federal government committed to adopting the recommendations of the Universities Accord to raise the tertiary attainment target from 60 per cent to 80 per cent of people in the workforce, and for the establishment of a National Student Ombudsman which will place a significant administrative burden on universities.

“The massive influx of students and red tape will require a greater expansion of university bureaucracies, which will raise course fees and inevitably put more pressure on taxpayers to fund even higher administrative staff numbers,” said Dr d’Abrera.

These findings reinforce previous IPA research highlighting the doubling of university policies that are hostile to academic freedom and freedom of speech between 2016 and 2023; and the proliferation of woke strategic commitments universities have made to indigenous, sustainability, and equity issues.

“It is no coincidence that a bloated bureaucracy has resulted in an explosion of rules and regulations, which actively seek to curtail both academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus,” said Dr d’Abrera.

“It can be no surprise that the teaching quality of Australia’s top ranked universities is in decline when resources are disproportionately poured into administration over teaching and research.”

To download the IPA’s research click here.

Figure 1: Growth in full-time equivalent staff at Australian universities

Figure 2: Growth in full-time equivalent staff at Australian universities from 2013 to 2023 (Index: 2013=100)

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