Insights from the Education Sector

By Margaret van Aanholt, Kym Reilly, Jasmine Tan
Partner, Partner, Director
19 August 2021
  • Audit & Assurance
  • Education

Education providers are complex organisations, faced with unprecedented challenges by an array of stakeholders, including students, staff, parents, governments (often several layers), community members and the media.  It seems everyone has an opinion on the best way to educate our population, both young and old.

Across PKF Australia and New Zealand, we work alongside many types and sizes of educational organisations, from pre-schools through to adult community education providers. 

We recently asked a cross section of our education clients what they saw as their biggest challenges and the following are the common themes and highlights:

The key COVID effects

  • The ability to pivot nimbly to provide online learning and the ability to react quickly and implement change rapidly was generally seen as a positive.
  • The importance of wellbeing of staff and students, that flexible working arrangements can work, and having a blend of online and face to face delivery is important going forward.
  • Exec management needed to act swiftly and it was important that they had healthy relationships with the Board, particularly the Chair, to provide empowerment.
  • The unexpected loss of fees and students, where courses were restricted or cancelled, highlighted the importance of having a sound financial base.
  • COVID-19 had a big impact on the higher learning sector due to heavy reliance on international students.

Lessons learnt in the last 12 months

  • They are continuing to operate in uncertain times, with ongoing threat of lockdowns, reduced classes and fee pressures – balancing student safety and wellbeing with delivery of effective services.
  • The importance of change management was highlighted and the need to formally incorporate this in their approach to planning and strategy.
  • Board and Management are now more aware of the unexpected and the need to have a practical and easily executed Business Continuity Plan (BCP).
  • The value of being prepared through a documented BCP Plan has ensured that schools are well progressed in respect of staff practices and technology, considering full lesson capture and time shifting lessons.

Planning for the future

  • Need to continue to investigate flexible delivery of courses and increase course offerings.
  • Focus on how to change the business model to attract more domestic students.
  • Invest in ongoing Governance training for the Board and Management.
  • Establishing orderly Director Succession Plan for director roles, so as to maintain the culture across the Board and at the same time maintain a diversity of perspectives.
  • Ensuring the cohort of directors have a well-developed mindset and are there for the right reasons.

Management and prioritising of risk

  • Finding the right staff with the appropriate skills and fit for the organisation.
  • Funding – The complexities of the various funding bodies, the constant changes, and the competitive open market.
  • Student wellness is a top level priority as a school, which includes mental health, bullying and sexual misconduct.
  • Reputational risk amid increased competition – Need to protect reputation through placing a strong emphasis on being good corporate citizens and being conscious of how staff and students are behaving at all times.
  • Pressing concerns relating to continuing compliance to Tertiary Education & Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the proposed changes to its cost recovery and fees/charges model.
  • Encouraging directors to attend industry events to keep abreast of current issues facing the sector.

Special thank you to the following in their insightful responses; Andrew Leake - COO, Wenona School for Girls, North Sydney, Chair, Governance Institute of Australia

Jade Vermeer - CEO, Tamworth Community College, Board Member - Community Colleges Australia

Brad Seaman, Board Member, Australian Chiropractic College, Adelaide