A prominent regional Australian university has joined several counterparts across the country in projecting a revenue hit totalling hundreds of millions of dollars due to a significant drop in international student numbers next year.

Central Queensland University (CQU), one of Australia’s largest regional higher education institutions, has said that it expects revenue to be down A$100 million (£51 million), a sum that represents around 22% of its annual income last year.

To help mitigate financial losses, the university’s vice-chancellor, Nick Klomp, has cut 20% from its leaders’ salaries, frozen staff pay rises, halved the number of deputy vice-chancellors, plans to close one campus and two regional study centres, and is seeking voluntary redundancies.  

Deakin University called for voluntary redundancies after it forecasted a A$110 million drop in revenue for this year; the University of New South Wales has projected a A$600 million cut to income, Melbourne A$500 million, and Sydney University A$470 million.

Such vast losses across Australia’s higher education sector place a spotlight on the brutal operating conditions ushered in by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in international travel bans, exam cancellations and unprecedented levels of economic uncertainty. Combined, these factors have rattled universities across the world, many of which are heavily reliant on income from lucrative international students who pay higher tuition fees, but are now bracing for potentially fatal revenue losses come September.

A recent survey found that over a third of international students were considering changing their study abroad plans in light of Covid-19.

CQU is acutely exposed to turbulence in the international student market, which in Australia is worth more than A$15 billion, because some 41.5% of its students come from overseas; around 70% of students in this cohort come from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. While many of Australia’s largest universities are heavily dependent on income from Chinese students, others rely on students from the less-affluent Asian sub-continent, who tend to seek out courses and qualifications at a lower price point.

In the UK, universities have said that the sector requires several billion pounds of government-backed bailout funds, otherwise there could be insolvencies in the near future.

Australia’s CQU is looking at closing down locations it operates in Biloela, Yeppoon and Noosaville, which are small but employ local educators and provide domestic vocational training.

The university’s contingency plans were reported by the Australian Financial Review.

According to Klomp, simply remaining liquid this year will be a struggle. He has reportedly calculated a scenario that could see the university receive 30% less income from international students in 2021.