Change management FAQ



What changes are currently underway at ACU and why?

ACU is currently going through a program of change management to address a funding shortfall, prioritise delivery of a world-class student experience, implement an integrated model for research excellence, and optimise operational services to support teaching and research.

Three change plans in total have been released as part of this program, which include a reduction in staff numbers in addition to a reduction of all other expenditures.

The Education plan focuses on a newly established Education portfolio, which will consolidate a range of student experience activities with the goal of enabling consistent, streamlined processes and standards of service.

The Academic plan proposes integrating research institutes into the relevant faculties. The aim is to provide a more unified academic model that better balances research resources, aligns with the university’s educational offerings, supports students with contemporary research-informed education, conducts more substantial graduate activities, and improves mentoring and career pathways for staff.

The Operational plan will streamline service delivery to improve efficiency, and reduce management layers.

These plans involve making challenging decisions that inevitably have personal cost and we are mindful of our commitment to ensure the dignity and respect of our staff throughout the process. 

What consultation is taking place?

Consultation is in line with the enterprise agreement and is ongoing. We are holding forums for staff to address senior leaders with questions and there is a formal feedback process. 


What are the circumstances that have resulted in a forecast financial deficit of more than $30 million?

The pipelined effects of the pandemic and the changing global outlook have created an uncertain operating environment for the entire sector, including ACU. ACU’s domestic enrolments have been on the decline for about eight years, the cost of research investment in areas where there is no student load is unsustainable, and while recovering, international enrolments are yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

While ACU’s revenue has been stable for many years, government funding has declined and our operating costs have increased significantly through enterprise agreement increases (salaries), general cost inflation, and investment in critical infrastructure such as cybersecurity.

The cumulative effect is substantial, and our revenue has not kept pace with our expenditure. ACU must address a forecast financial deficit which exceeds $30 million and is expected to grow unless significant further cost-cutting measures are undertaken.

This is not unique in the sector. Most other Australian universities have experienced deficits and downsizing since the pandemic, while ACU to date has limited the number of jobs that were lost.

What about the surpluses from previous years?

Money from a surplus goes back into costs each year – such as buildings, infrastructure and virtual networks/IT.

What about investing in other revenue streams?

Investment in long-term start-up projects takes time; the following projects are on track to break even and begin bringing in revenue over the next few years:

  • Blacktown Campus
  • The Saint Teresa of Kolkata building in Melbourne
  • ACU Online
  • Townsville Leadership Centre
  • Brisbane Leadership Centre

Has ACU considered reducing expenditure in other areas besides staff reduction?

Reductions in non-salary expenditure were among the first things targeted for reduction – including significant cuts in travel and consultancy.

What is ACU spending on travel and consultancy?

Expenditure on travel and consultancy is around two per cent each of ACU’s annual budget.  Expenditure on salaries is closer to 70 per cent.

Travel costs are returning to pre-pandemic levels and yet expenditure on travel has still been reduced: The forecast for travel in 2023 is 27% less than what was spent in 2019, and 80% of the average travel expenditure is for faculties, research institutes, students (for programs like Away From Base), and for international student recruitment activities.

Expenditure on consultancy has been reduced by 12% since 2021. Consultancy includes expenditure on things like auditing; often short-term contracts for specialists or work on capital projects, or to fulfill governance and legislative requirements.

What is the workforce reduction costing ACU?

As the Change Management Plans are still in progress, the exact number is not yet known. Redundancy payments are included in the 2023 accounting figures and savings will be in 2024. This is an inevitable aspect of salary reductions; we expect to see the savings reflected in our 2024-2025 budget.

What are the forecast savings of the workforce reduction?

As the Change Management Plans are still in progress, the exact number is not yet known. ACU is working to meet the expectations of our governing body to deliver a balanced budget in 2024.

What is ACU’s investment in research?

A total of $37.2m was spent in research institutes in 2022. Total research institute spending was $9.9 million in 2014; since then, total expenditure is at a minimum of $27.7m annually. Total DVC Research and Enterprise, and Research Institutes expenditure grew by 5.3x in 2022 ($50.8m) compared to 2013 ($9.5m).

Why has ACU invested in a new building at the Melbourne Campus?

The Saint Teresa of Kolkata building in Melbourne is a 13-storey building featuring a combination of centralised teaching facilities and informal learning spaces, upgraded student amenities, green spaces and a rooftop multi-sports court.

The new building will reduce ACU’s reliance on renting expensive office space along Victoria Parade and allow staff to be based on the main campus. There are multiple features focused on sustainability: including re-use of grey water and solar panels that generate electricity which provides 100 per cent renewable electricity sourced from the grid.

ACU has been at the forefront of universities bringing students back to campus after COVID lockdowns. They have told us that while they value the flexibility of online learning, they also want the university experience and social aspect of being on campus.

The Saint Teresa of Kolkata building was central to our 2023 Melbourne Open Day, which attracted double the number of expected visitors and a return to pre-pandemic numbers. 

Has the launch of ACU Online been successful?

ACU Online was launched in 2022. It has already reached around 90 per cent of its target EFTSL and continues to grow steadily; unit enrolments from other online delivery are up 10 per cent.

More than 3,000 students are studying some units online and almost 1,000 studying wholly online through ACU Online.

The costs of reinforcing our traditional online operations and establishing the new ACU Online initiative have been proportionate with the start-up of a new offering and include significant investment in learning management systems which will benefit the entire student population from 2024.

 ACU Online is on track to succeed as a sustainable new revenue stream, accounting for the fastest growing segment of the university and close to 20% of ACU’s student enrolment.

ACU Online has delivered students from underrepresented groups and from geographical areas where ACU does not have a physical campus, enhancing access to higher education for a cohort who might otherwise not have had access, which is consistent with our mission. 

Why the investment in the Veterans’ program and has this been successful?

ACU is the largest provider of veteran and veteran family education in the country. The program is one of many ACU equity initiatives providing access to higher education for those who might not otherwise seek tertiary education.

The program is still in the early stages of being established and is building its capacity. Since its inception in 2019 the program has flourished, with measurable benefits for our students, staff and the entire community with the research we conduct. Student numbers have multiplied tenfold in this time and continue to grow.

Collaborative, co-designed research, working directly with veterans’ organisations, has attracted more than $1.2m in external funding, with the potential of further funding in the pipeline.


Why has ACU changed its strategy for research?

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) requires us to demonstrate research at or above world standard in 50 per cent of the disciplines in which we teach, and we are not there at the moment. Having alignment between what we teach and what we research is of course also critical for our reputation.

The university has an obligation under TEQSA regulations to undertake research in areas where it teaches. Currently there is overinvestment in areas with little or no student load, and underinvestment in areas with higher student load and we need to correct this balance.

Given that our education, our research and our service work is almost exclusively funded by student revenue, particularly undergraduate students, we need to ensure judicious use of that revenue.

The previous model was set up in a different era and had different objectives. It was established before COVID, and before the full impact of ACU’s plateauing revenue and raising costs. This model was undertaken to establish ACU as a research active university, and it achieved that objective. However, the sector is now moving towards a broader perspective of research, and we need to adapt to this.

Why the focus on specific areas of research?

Over the past few years, the number of staff in some areas has grown considerably; so much that our staffing profile is disproportionate to the number of students in these subjects and is out of step with the rest of the higher education sector. We are therefore moving to realign and better integrate our teaching and research in these areas.

It will allow our research to inform our education and teaching, but it will also allow our education efforts to inform our research, so we'll have that two way Nexus.

There have been mismatches in some disciplines – so large investments in research areas where we have very low student revenue and vice versa.

Moving the institutes into faculties is primarily about alignment and integration of our researcher and educator communities to build a greater mass of research, engaged staff, and ultimately to produce new programs that benefit our students.

While the volume of research-only positions isn't proportionately out of line with the sector, and indeed by some measures, we're smaller, most universities have their research-only positions under temporary arrangements with many externally funded and aimed at ECS to kick off their careers.

Lack of integration has led to limited research, informed teaching and poor internal pipelines for graduate students.

We will continue to conduct both teaching and research into these areas through a re-shaped community of academics that will still present a substantial offering compared with other Australian universities.

Aren’t the targeted disciplines fundamental to ACU’s background and commitment to humanities?

ACU has three times as many people than the sector average in historians and philosophers. We will remain strong in these areas after the changes.

ACU has NOT:

  • disestablished the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences and is not proposing such action.
  • stopped teaching or research in philosophy. This area is proposed to be integrated into the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry and the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy.
  • stopped teaching or research in history, including in medieval studies and early modern history.  There is no intention to do so.

Each of these disciplines is vital to our broad and excellent range of studies and a key component of a Catholic university. We will continue to conduct both teaching and research in these areas through a re-shaped community of academics that will still present a substantial offering compared with other Australian universities.


What is the impact on Higher Degree Research students?

Regardless of the changes to areas including history and philosophy, ACU will still have strong researchers in these fields and will be able to provide supervision for all our PhD candidates even after these changes are enacted.

It is our expectation that these changes will improve research output, capability and better opportunities for our HDR students.

Will student services be affected by the changes?

The Education plan focused on consolidating a range of student experience activities into a newly established Education portfolio. By doing so, ACU will put the student at the centre of its service offerings by connecting and aligning its practices, ensuring that the right support and services are available when needed.

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