Charles Sturt acknowledges the possibility of missing wages after a NSW Audit Office report deemed a review of staff payments one of two "high-risk" deficiencies to be rectified before the tabling of its annual report in parliament.
The report showed Charles Sturt's significant progress in wiping out its multi-million dollar operating deficit but also found the university failed to adequately address a review into over or underpayment of casual staff.
The review is ongoing so the extent of any potential, erroneous payments is yet to be determined and while interim vice-chancellor John Germov said there is no evidence, the annual report was adjusted to reflect the possibility.
We have been asked to put a notation in our annual report to flag this as a potential liability going forward.Charles Sturt University interim vice chancellor, Professor John Germov
"We undertook the review voluntarily because ... a number of universities have found errors, so we brought in an external agency (but) it hasn't concluded it's work yet," Professor Germov said.
"So we're still waiting on the outcome to determine what extent it is a problem at Charles Sturt, if any. As yet, we haven't uncovered anything of concern.
"We have been asked to put a notation in our annual report to flag this as a potential liability going forward but we are unable to state what amount it might be (and) it's very unlikely to be from any sort of fraud.
"It's because of the complexity of casual payments (and) how people are categorised for the work they do. This is what you see across the sector.
"We're moving to ensure our staff are better-trained in terms of understanding how to define a category of casual employment."
The Auditor-General's report also found Charles Sturt misunderstood the application of new accounting standards by failing to include a $34 million grant for capital works, largely at its Port Macquarie campus, as revenue.
Subsequent discussions delayed the tabling of the university's annual report in parliament however Professor Germov said it has been rectified, which resulted in Charles Sturt recording a net surplus of $19.5 million.
The report confirmed overall the university finished 2020 with an operating deficit of $15.5 million, a reduction of $34 million from previous forecasts.
It reduced expenditure by 9.2 per cent, however that came with a number of restructures which resulted in hundreds of jobs being cut along with almost 600 subjects.
"We were forced to take a lot of tough decisions in the budget remediation. We've had to let a number of staff go, the vast majority through voluntary separations, and we've also look at the sustainability of our course profile," Professor Germov said.
"The whole goal was to move towards a position where we're no longer reliant on international student income for our viability so we've rejigged our operating model to ensure we're sustainable, long-term.
"Proportionately, we've reduced our expenditure by more than any other university in NSW and that's because we acted swiftly. We're on track to break even or do better by the end of the year."
Professor Germov said the positive financial outcome was "one of many" from the report, which also highlighted strong growth in domestic and low socio-economic enrolments along with sector-leading graduate employability.
It also showed Charles Sturt to be the state's leading university for Indigenous enrolments, with a year-on-year increase of more than 11 per cent recorded.
He also highlighted the university's investment in projects that will "reap huge benefits for regional Australia" like the $8 million Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub at Wagga, the Port Macquarie campus' expansion and the upcoming opening of Orange's School of Rural Medicine.
"We've been able to do this under quite challenging circumstances," Professor Germov said.
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