“There has been huge growth in the cost of university administration and, given their strong financial position, the challenge for university management is to ensure their institutions are operating more efficiently and to invest more in teaching and research.”
I agree that universities could be more efficient. But I am not sure that we are witnessing ‘huge growth’ in the cost of university administration. I don’t know of any public data that directly measures administration costs, but DEST finance statistics divide employee costs into academic and non-academic. Staff are the major expense for universities. Over the period 2002 to 2006, total enrolments increased by 9.8% and total university expenses rose by 38%. Academic staff costs increased by 48% and non-academic staff costs by 46%. This suggests that staff costs are heading up at a faster rate than other costs, but not that administration costs are blowing out relative to teaching and research costs, unless there has been a growth in central administration staff at the expense of other non-academic staff.
DEST’s staff statistics get us closer to central administrators, but without counting just them. Their numbers are mixed in with the delivery of non-administrative services, such as maintenance and security. But their total share of university employment is stable on around 19% since 2000, slightly lower than it was in the 1990s.
I doubt central administration is growing quickly. There are pressures to growth but also areas of greater efficiency. The increased micromanagement and data demands of the government certainly add significantly to administrative work at universities. If the Coalition gets back, these will continue to escalate with the Research Quality Framework. Universities spend more on marketing and media staff than they used to, an inevitable consequence of having to recruit full-fee students. On the other hand, as in other sectors there are efficiency gains through IT. Finance, HR and enrolment services have all benefited from improved efficiency as the result of IT investment.
These trends would see clerical staff replaced with more expensive employees with higher levels of skills, such as those needed to maintain IT systems and understand complex bureaucratic requirements. So average staff salaries are likely to have increased.
For some reason – perhaps to create the impression of change and therefore news – people make incorrect claims about trends to make plausible points about a problem. I think that could be the case here. University administrations could be more efficient, but there is no clear evidence of huge growth in costs relative to the tasks they have to perform.