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AUT’s growth model could be under threat, Ndespite international students returning

By David WIlliams (he/him)

AUT's leadership team is rethinking its operation model due to a slow uptake in enrolments.

“That growth model revisits how we want to operate going forward,” says AUT Assistant Vice Chancellor and CFO, Lyle Williams.

AUT has seen a large growth in student numbers in recent history.

“Up until 2020, we’d had quite a positive growth period as a university, our international enrolments and our domestic enrolments had both been on the increase for a number of years,”he says.

However, Covid posed a threat to the number of students and thus the finances of the university.

Williams says the senior team came together at the beginning of 2020 to plan how the university could financially sustain itself through the pandemic.

This included voluntary redundancies, a pause on major capital projects and cancelling travel for events.

Consequently, AUT posted a $12.3 million surplus in 2020, and a $12.9 million surplus in 2021 - all during a period of financial shock for the tertiary education sector.

The rise in domestic students helped, easing the the financial burden of having fewer international enrolments.

“I think we’ve got the largest point in domestic enrolment to date,” says Williams.

Unfortunately, the number of domestic students is declining after the spike in 2021.

Although the borders are now open, the levels of international students AUT had pre-Covid will not return overnight.

“It's a little tighter for us. That's our third year in a row that we have had less international revenue. This year has been also amplified by reduced domestic enrollment,” says Williams.

“There's always going to be a down period... The challenges of the last two years are coming home to impact our overall financial result. Assuming growth at this stage would be inappropriate.”

He says the leadership team is coming up with a plan to be sustainable both for students and the university.

“So the challenge will be looking at things we've done that don't necessarily fit with what the future looks like.”

Williams is heartened by the return of students to campus.

“The buzz of students getting together and stuff. I mean, it's why we do what we do. I don't do it to be a good accountant or make sure the books balance. That's my job. But behind that is a keenness to see students succeed.”


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