Australian public universities are now spending millions on consultants

by Alexia Adhikari
Blur of auditorium room use for present meeting background


Figures from Queensland and Victoria reveal that public universities spend over $200m on consultants, while students HECS/HELP debt soar.

Australia’s addiction to consultants extends from the public sector to public universities. The final report of the NSW Government inquiry into the use of consultants was released last week. The number one finding is that there is no clear and readily available public record of exactly how much the NSW Government spends on consultants – far from encouraging. If this is the situation for the NSW Government, then what does it look like for Australia’s public universities?

Public universities in Australia spend big on consultants. In 2023, universities in two states alone spent $209 million on consultants – Victorian universities spent at least $72 million while Queensland universities spent a whopping $137 million. Compare this to 2022, when just ten universities across the country spent $249 million on consultants. With amounts like these, is it any wonder then that universities have been accused of being captured by private consultancies? In the meantime, consultancy companies are increasingly partnering with universities to deliver programs, making their continued use more likely.

Such huge spending is happening alongside continued cases of wage theft (two cases reported last week alone, see here and here) and the fact that the Australian Government makes more money from student HECS/HELP than it does from oil and gas companies under the Petroleum Resources Rent Tax (PRRT). In an environment of scarce resources, why are universities spending so much money on consultants when paying staff properly and helping students should be prioritised?

Disclosing consultancy spending is important for transparency and accountability of our public institutions. University spending on consultancies is clearly and easily available in Queensland and Victoria because of annual reporting requirements that mean universities in these states must produce separate consultancies statements alongside their annual reports. But for other universities, this information is harder to find, buried in annual reports, and often in a combination line item with other types of services or contractors.

The 2023 annual reports for all universities are yet to be publicly available. Since the spending for all universities is not listed in this chart, the full extent of money spent on consultancies remains to be seen. If all universities reported in the same way as those in Victoria and Queensland, then the public could easily see how much universities spend on which consultants. For these core public institutions, increased transparency is critical to ensure the best use of public, and student money.

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