Public universities and impacts of COVID-19 in Australia: risk disclosures and organisational change

Garry D. Carnegie*, James Guthrie, Ann Martin-Sardesai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine the COVID-19 pandemic risk disclosures in a sample of annual reports of Australian public universities. These universities rely heavily on fee-paying onshore overseas students. Analysing these risk disclosures is essential to understanding the COVID-19 crisis and the implications for organisational change.

Design/methodology/approach: Document analysis and content analysis of the 2019 annual reports of all Victorian public universities were undertaken to identify the disclosure of COVID-19 risk impacts. Applying Laughlin's Habermasian insights of change, the study explores the pathways of change adopted by universities to overcome the risk impacts. However, financial risk disclosures about income from this source were virtually non-existent.

Findings: Any risk associated with COVID-19 disclosed was minimal in a qualitative, neutral and constant format. The quality of disclosures was low. Media statements, however, pointed to significant income loss and suggested a strategy of substantial cost-cutting, including employee redundancies, which we identified as morphostatic changes of universities to overcome the risk impacts.

Research limitations/implications: The study reveals the risk associated with sector's aggressive growth strategy, jeopardising their financial viability and quality of teaching and research.

Practical implications: The findings provide insights to the Australian higher education sector. The low quality of external risk disclosures of these universities suggests an urgent need for transformation.

Originality/value: Australian public universities play a crucial role in society. This role will be diminished by a failure to disclose and manage significant risks adequately.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-73
Number of pages13
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number1
Early online date29 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2022


  • Accounting
  • Annual reports
  • Australia
  • COVID-19
  • Risk disclosures
  • Victorian public universities


Dive into the research topics of 'Public universities and impacts of COVID-19 in Australia: risk disclosures and organisational change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this