9 Dec 2015

Govt keeps close eye on Lincoln Uni's books

6:26 am on 9 December 2015

The government has tightened its monitoring of Lincoln University's finances because of the problems facing the institution.

Lincoln University

Photo: Wiki Commons

The university was struggling to make ends meet even before the 2011 Canterbury quakes dented its enrolments and damaged its buildings.

Now it is reporting monthly to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and has agreed to the appointment of an independent financial advisor and to financial support from consultancy firms.

The TEC said in a statement that it and Lincoln agreed in September to appoint a financial advisor at the university.

"This appointment was designed to provide independent advice on the finances of the university to the TEC, and to support the university to strengthen its financial management and reporting. The TEC is also helping Lincoln by funding specialist financial support from PWC and Deloitte."

The commission said the measures had been taken because of the financial challenges facing the university.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the closer monitoring was prompted by two main factors.

"Their enrolment numbers are not growing as fast as they'd liked or planned for at this point and so the ministry and TEC are working with Lincoln to look at their models to see if they're realistic.

"The second thing is of course they're about to make some significant decisions over the next year or so in the investment in the Lincoln Hub and the redevelopment of their science facilities and so it's an appropriate time to make sure that the business plan reflects what's likely to happen over the next five to ten years because of course they've got to meet the costs of those assets."

Mr Joyce said the government was making sure the scale of the investment Lincoln was planning was appropriate for its likely future enrolments.

Lincoln deputy vice-chancellor Jeremy Baker said tighter monitoring was appropriate given the government was getting close to providing some of the $100 million promised for a joint venture between the university, three Crown research institutes and DairyNZ

"There's quite a significant amount of Crown investment being made and I think it's reasonable for the Crown to want to have some good monitoring around that."

Mr Baker said the university would make an operating deficit this year - according to annual reports its eighth in as many years - even though the government was funding it for more students than it actually had.

But he said the situation was improving.

"Our financial situation hasn't been fantastic for the last five years. I actually think it is turning around and certainly the overall story for Lincoln is a great one - we had a 9 percent increase in domestic student numbers and a 30 percent increase in international student numbers this year."

Mr Baker said the university had reduced spending and cut some jobs, and now it needed to increase its income.

President of the Tertiary Education Union, Sandra Grey,

President of the Tertiary Education Union, Sandra Grey, Photo: SUPPLIED

President of the Tertiary Education Union Sandra Grey said its members at Lincoln were nervous about the university's future.

"Certainly the staff there have been noticing the increased monitoring of their own institution. They're really worried about it's long-term financial viability."

Dr Grey said staff worry that the government's model for funding universities did not work for an institution as small as Lincoln, and it was not viable in the long term.

"It's a very specialised university, it's a very small university, it's quite difficult to operate in the current funding model," she said.

Dr Grey said staff wanted some assurance from the government that Lincoln had a long-term future.

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