CHARLES Sturt University says it is already drawing down on more than $300 million it holds in reserve as it manages an $80 million fall in revenue.
The university was responding to a call from Calare MP Andrew Gee on Friday for more transparency around its financial situation and his insistence they "open the vault" on around $347 million in reserves.
But CSU vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Vann rejected Mr Gee's claim, saying the university had been "transparent about the financial challenges it is facing".
"We are managing a decline in revenue of $80 million due to the impacts on international enrolments, which accounts for $64 million of that figure," he said.
"All universities have been affected by this unprecedented event (COVID-19) and we are all needing to take action to remediate the financial impacts."
Mr Gee, also the federal Minister for Regional Education, has written to NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell asking for the state government to direct the university to "release a proportion of its cash and investment reserves as the situation requires, and to work collaboratively with me to help CSU weather the COVID-19 storm".
He said CSU held "impressive reserves" of more than $300 million it had accumulated over several years and now was the time to "unlock the vault".
"To bring this ongoing speculation to a close, I have today written to the university's chancellor and requested a full, open, and transparent account of the university's financial position for the community," Mr Gee said on Friday.
"While CSU has taken a hit, from my investigations and briefings from CSU which included their numbers, it is quite clear that the revenue decline to the university not only doesn't get within bull's roar of $80 million, it includes a deficit that was incurred prior to COVID-19.
I have today written to the university's chancellor and requested a full, open, and transparent account of the university's financial position for the communityMember for Calare Andrew Gee
"Until that account is provided to the community, and in order to give the community and staff reassurance, the university must confirm that it is willing to unlock the vault and access its impressive reserves if need be.
"CSU currently has $347 million of taxpayers' money in the piggy bank for a rainy day. Well, it's raining now. The university has shown a reluctance to even discuss its bulging piggy bank."
Mr Gee said the federal government had provided the Australian university sector an $18 billion relief package which included locking in student course funding at current levels no matter how much student numbers drop over the next 12 months.
"This has already been warmly welcomed by CSU as it receives over $200 million a year in payments from the taxpayer," he said.
But Professor Vann said that without remediation measures, CSU had projected a budget deficit of $49.5 million in 2020.
"This is due to a range of factors including COVID-19, changing demands of students and increasing costs in the education sector," he said.
"... The university is drawing down on its reserves as we work through our current return to financial and academic sustainability. These reserves have been built up over many years from a variety of sources including international student revenue.
"As with all universities, the investments provide a source of additional revenue that supports the University's operations through its investment returns. We also utilise this money to invest in capital projects support teaching, learning and research facilities across our campuses."
Professor Vann said CSU's 2019 annual report would be publicly available following advice from the NSW Government that it has been tabled in parliament.
"We expect this advice in early June," he said.
"As with all Australian universities, we have been working through a period of enormous uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged and we have provided updates on our position and response as frequently as we can as events have developed.
"We have been clear that some of our financial issues pre-date COVID-19. We announced we were remediating this financial position in February 2020, however the scale of our issues as well as the speed at which we need to address them, has absolutely been amplified by the COVID-19 crisis."