Statement: 2020 Annual Report

Statement: 2020 Annual Report

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge our world, we are adapting and responding quickly to ensure a sustainable future.

As we look towards the future, education is about flexibility and adaptability, and at RMIT that’s simply part of who we are. As we continue to evolve in changing times, we remain committed to upholding the transformative power of education, to remain deeply relevant and to set the standard for what a university of today and tomorrow should be.

2020 Financial summary

The global pandemic and the closure of Australia’s international borders had a significant impact on RMIT’s financial performance in 2020.

The consolidated 2020 net operating result for RMIT University and its subsidiaries (RMIT Group) was a loss of $55.9 million, after net restructuring charges of $75.9 million, which reflects the significant impact the pandemic had on the Group. 

Despite exceptional RMIT-wide efforts to counter the impact, border closures and student mobility were particularly acute in Australia. This was partly offset by strong performances by RMIT Online and RMIT Vietnam.

In 2020, consolidated Group revenue of $1.46 billion fell 4% below 2019 which was 10% below the budget target, while Earnings before Interest Tax and Depreciation (EBITDA) of $92.2 million dropped 50% below last year and was 53% under budget.

We took early and decisive action to reduce costs as soon as the potential impact of the pandemic was evident. 

For our Australian campuses, this resulted in some specific outcomes: reducing discretionary costs and non-critical project and infrastructure spending, stopping many activities and carefully managing recruitment. Sadly, approximately 600 roles were made redundant in Australia in 2020, of these, around 500 were voluntary redundancies. Thanks to a community-wide effort, 2020 expenditure reduced $109 million, or 8% against budget, which was 2% below 2019 before net restructuring costs of $75.9 million.

We also cared for our hard-hit community at many points of need. To help where it mattered most, RMIT invested $13 million into essential support, including $11 million in student hardship payments and $2 million in other COVID-related costs.

We responded at pace with numerous cost saving measures and are now well placed for a sustainable future. As the University adapts to the evolving landscape, we will continue to focus on delivering the best possible student experience across our many locations.

RMIT community

In 2020, RMIT had close to 10,000 staff globally and 95,000 students studying at campuses in Australia and internationally.

We are extremely proud of RMIT’s diverse community and recognise the important role our campuses play in supporting a vibrant culture.

We remain focused on continuing our essential work of providing a quality education for our students no matter where they are currently located. With borders remaining closed, RMIT saw a decrease in applications from international students compared to the same time last year.

Some international students commenced or moved their programs online with a view to joining us in Melbourne when they can, reflecting that Australia and Victoria remain attractive destinations to study. 

We've put in place innovative alternatives to support students based overseas to actively engage with them until they can join us in Melbourne.    

We know our campuses are essential to the unique RMIT experience and we’re looking forward to welcoming international students back at the earliest opportunity. 

International students

RMIT has students studying at offshore campuses, which we consider as international students, although it’s important to note they are not studying at our campuses in Australia – they are studying overseas and considered domestic cohorts in their local market.

All students studying at RMIT’s international campuses are noted in the University’s annual report as ‘fee paying offshore overseas students’ (sometimes noted as international offshore, or INTOFF).

International students studying at RMIT’s Australian campuses are noted as ‘fee paying onshore overseas students’ (sometimes noted as international onshore, or INTON).

Bundling offshore and onshore figures together to represent international students studying in Australia is an inaccurate representation of RMIT’s Australian operations.

Highlights

Diversity and Inclusion

RMIT was named as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) in 2020, for the third year. This recognition acknowledges RMIT’s effort to develop a gender-balanced workforce, support pay equity, provide supports for parents and carers, mainstream flexible ways of working and prevent gender-based harassment.

Female representation in senior roles continued to grow, from 34.4% in 2015 to 44% in 2020 as we work towards our target of gender parity (50/50) by end of 2021.

The University also achieved Bronze status (highest available) in the Athena SWAN program for Women in STEMM in 2020 and commenced implementation of a five-year action plan across RMIT’s 10 STEM schools. 

RMIT was awarded Employer of the Year for in the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), recognising our commitment to celebrating the diverse genders, sexes and sexualities (DGSS) of our community. The University was also awarded the Trans and Gender Diverse Inclusion Award and the Employee Network of the Year Award in recognition of the Staff DGSS and RMIT Ally Networks.

Ensuring RMIT is physically, technologically and culturally accessible for people with a disability remained a key area of focus in 2020 and were proud to be recognised as the leading organisation for accessibility in the Australian Network on Disability Access and Inclusion Index. RMIT was also the highest-ranked organisation for ‘Products and Services’ for our provisions for students with disability. 

Reconciliation

2020 was a challenging year, which highlighted the fundamental importance of RMIT’s commitments to just and meaningful relationships, and saw many positive achievements including work to progress our second Reconciliation Plan, Dhumbah Goorowa 2019-2020, focused on how to embed reconciliation across RMIT’s values, culture, processes and systems. Dhumbah Goorowa recognises that there is still much work to be done in support of First Nations’ right to self-determination in education and in our community life.

Also of significance in 2020 was the appointment of Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson as Indigenous Elder Scholar in Residence. Since joining RMIT, Professor Moreton-Robinson has made a significant contribution to RMIT’s research and scholarship and helped to develop our academic talent by running workshops with our growing Higher Degree by Research (HDR) cohort.

Sustainability

RMIT worked alongside its external investment managers to launch a new sustainable investment solution. The Russell Investment ‘Sustainable Global Shares Fund ex Fossil Fuels’ has reduced exposure to carbon emissions and excludes companies with fossil fuel reserves, as well as companies with significant involvement in fossil fuels.

This marks an important step in achieving RMIT’s commitment to ensuring that the portfolio minimises activities that have a material impact on climate change.

During the year RMIT became the first higher education institution in Australia – and possibly the world – to use an innovative format of debt financing that rewards RMIT for meeting sustainability performance targets. The AU$100 million three-year sustainability-linked loan focuses on two sustainability performance targets – the University’s CO2 emissions and water consumption, providing a pricing benefit, or penalty, according to its performance against agreed targets over the life of the facility.

In 2020, RMIT was ranked number one in the world for its efforts to reduce inequalities within and among countries (SDG 10) in the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings. The University also ranked 10th overall, rocketing up from 82nd place in 2019. The THE Impact Rankings were designed to showcase progress against the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by measuring a university’s social, environmental and economic impact.

Rankings

RMIT was ranked 223rd in the 2021 QS World University Rankings. The University is also ranked eighth in Australia and 39th in East Asia and the Pacific for employer reputation, and 18th globally in the Top 50 Universities Under 50 Years Old. The University ranked 281st globally in the 2021 US News Best Global Universities Rankings and is ranked in the world's top 400 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).

RMIT also ranked in the world’s top 400 in the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, 10th globally in the 2020 Times Higher Education Impact Ranking and number one in the world for its efforts to reduce inequality within and among countries (SDG 10).

Research and partnerships

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was an excellent year for research and innovation, with advancements made across all major global ranking schema.

RMIT researchers swiftly responded to the rapidly changing world and were trusted partners and advisors for many local and global challenges including the 2020 bushfire season and the initial COVID-19 emergency response. 

Our eight Enabling Capability Platforms, in place to foster cross-disciplinary research, established five Post-COVID-19 Restart initiatives to develop strategies and solutions to assist Australia in its recovery and re-growth.

RMIT was also announced as the lead for a new Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Transformation of Reclaimed Waste Resources to Engineered Materials and Solutions for a Circular Economy.

RMIT worked closely with industry and government throughout 2020, adapting our offering and outcomes to meet the changing needs of partners and students, as well as the evolving economic, social and political landscape.

Significant new partnership outcomes included the launch of the Siemens Industrial Digital Innovation Hub, established to help drive workforce transformation for Industry 4.0 in the Australasian region; and the official launch of the RMIT Health Transformation Lab with Cisco.

The University also launched Australia’s first cyber security research centre that takes an industry driven approach to meeting rapidly evolving cyber security challenges at home and overseas.

RMIT supported pandemic preparedness in Southeast Asia, partnering with the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security and Australian Department of Home Affairs to deliver the Border Control Agency Management Program to frontline immigration officers. RMIT Vietnam also helped build police leadership and cooperation in the region, pioneering a specialised course in partnership with the Australian Federal Police and Vietnam Ministry of Public Security.

Outlook

Both domestic and international students are impacted by this global pandemic and we anticipate total student enrolments to be down in 2021, with impacts into 2022. 

While we aren’t in a position to make projections beyond 2022, the prolonged closure of international borders and reduced student enrolments will likely impact our financial position in future years. 

Our operations have continued to evolve considerably over the past decade. In light of operational changes, different annual reporting requirements, and the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, using historical figures to predict future financial scenarios should be undertaken with caution.

As we manage through the situation, we are committed to adapting in every way we can to support the RMIT community and minimise study disruptions while ensuring a sustainable future for the University.

Our 2021 operating plan reflects our reduced revenue expectations and we will continue to adapt and align our operations where needed in response to an evolving economic climate.

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About RMIT

Our mission is to help shape the world through research, innovation, quality teaching and engagement, and to create transformative experiences for students, getting them ready for life and work.  

Founded in 1887, RMIT is a multi-sector university with strong industry connections forged over 133 years. Collaboration with industry remains integral to our leadership in education, applied and innovative research, and to the development of highly skilled, globally-focused graduates.

RMIT is redefining its relationship in working with and supporting Aboriginal self-determination. The goal is to achieve lasting transformation by maturing values, culture, policy and structures in a way that embeds reconciliation in everything the University does. We are changing our ways of knowing and working to support sustainable reconciliation and strengthen the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 

Our three campuses in Melbourne – Melbourne City, Brunswick and Bundoora – are located on the unceded lands of the people of the Woi Wurrung and Boon Wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation.

As a global university, RMIT has two campuses and a language centre in Vietnam and a research and industry collaboration centre in Barcelona, Spain. RMIT also offers programs through partners in destinations including Singapore, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and mainland China, with research and industry partnerships on every continent. 

 

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer