Batchelor Institute recorded its seventh consecutive loss in 2020, its newly released annual report shows, which follows in the wake of the departure of yet another chief executive officer and an internal investigation into serious allegations made by staff against senior management in February.
However the 2020 annual report – which covers the calendar year and was released yesterday – was a somewhat better result than in 2019, with a loss of about $214,000 from an income of $31.4 million, down from the 2019 loss of $2.7 million from an income of $36.9 million. The income was way down on the $47 million the Institute bought in 10 years ago.
The loss follows previous losses going back to 2014: $1.2 million in 2018; $200,000 in 2017; $6.9 million in 2016; $3.2 million in 2015; and a $1.4 million loss in 2014.
That is a total loss of about $15.8 million over that time.
The annual report also showed former chief executive officer Professor Steve Larkin was being paid at least $415,000 a year. He went on unidentified leave last November and didn’t return before his resignation eight months later.
Institute Council chair Patricia Anderson said there was no material financial impact caused by COVID-19 on the 2020 financial statement, and it would not materially affect its ongoing operations.
The report said there was a 15 per cent – or $5.5 million reduction in expenses – including a $4.1 million reduction in wages, due to redundancies in 2019 and vacant positions not being filled in 2020.
The Institute received $11.9 million of federal government funding, down from $13.6 million the year before, and $16 million in 2016; and $11.8 million in Territory Government funding, the same as the previous year, but down on the $16 million given in 2016.
The Institute had assets of $30.7 million, down from $30.9 million the year before.
CEO paid more than $400,000
The annual report showed the Institute employed on average about 195 staff members, 77 who were identified as First Nations peoples. Of those, 73 started their jobs last year, and there were three redundancies.
The total figure was down from the 234 employees in 2019, which included 104 who were said to have begun employment that year, with 27 resigning and 29 being made redundant.
The academic employment costs for the year came in at $8.8 million, which was lower than the non-academic employment costs of $11.49 million, for a total of $20.3 million.
In 2016, the academic employment costs were $13.3 million and non-academic employment costs were $12.87 million for a total of $26.18 million.
The annual report does not give exact payments to board members or the executives, instead it gives pay grades.
There were seven members of the Council – the Institute’s board – who were paid in a band between zero and $14,999. The bands of pay for board members in the 2017 annual report were between zero and $9,999, so presumably they are now paid more than $10,000 each.
The chair was paid between $30,000 and and $44,999. The interstate board members would also have their flights paid to attend the six board meetings per year, with accommodation for at least several days, as well as a daily travel allowance but these are not identified in the annual report.
There were five executives listed, with one paid between $130,000 to $144,999, one between $175,000 and $189,999, one between $190,00 and $204,999 and one paid between $340,000 and $354,999.
The last position was the CEO, which was Professor Steven Larkin until August 5 this year, and who was paid between $415,000 to $429,000. In 2019 he was paid between $430,000 and $444,999, which was well above Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s $325,392 base pay for last year.
Prof Larkin began in the role in March 2018. The 2017 annual report shows the CEO’s pay was between $380,000 and $399,999.
He did not respond to a question about why the chief executive’s wage had increased so much in his tenure.
Staff allegations at Batchelor
On September 11, the NT Independent reported Batchelor Institute confirmed it was undertaking, or had finalised, an internal investigation into allegations against some senior management, after a litany of claims were raised earlier this year, including that employees were appointed to positions through improper processes, that staff feared being targeted for complaining about management, and that management relied on fictitious workplace policies.
The Institute, through an email statement by Ms Anderson, confirmed there were allegations – which they referred to as ‘internal complaints’ – and said only that “internal complaints were received, and internal investigations began through formal channels”.
Prof Larkin was on an unidentified period of leave from November until his resignation about eight months later. The annual report shows Jessie Borthwick was the acting chief executive officer from November 23 until February 5, 2021.
Professor Gareth Allison states on his Linkedin profile that he was the acting chief executive officer from February 2021 to this month.
Institute Council member Mick Gooda, who was the co-commissioner of the Royal Commission into Child Protection and Youth Detention Systems of the Northern Territory, was made the new acting chief executive officer about ten days ago, while the Institute searches for someone to take the role permanently.
Prof Larkin did not respond to questions about his leave or to respond to the allegations that were made against him and senior management.
Dealing with COVID-19, mystery student numbers
In the report, the then-acting CEO Prof Allison said face-to face classes stopped and campuses closed on March 16, 2020 because of the rise of COVID-19, and those classes resumed and campuses opened on June 16, but in between, he said, they instead taught online, sent workbooks in the post and lecturers who were in remote communities stayed there and taught.
The annual report does not appear to give actual student numbers, but stated under Vocational Education and Training there were 407 course completions for the year across 33 qualifications and courses, down from 724 the year before and a high of 1053 in 2017. A student can attempt more than one course in a year.
The report also did not appear to state how many students passed their course, but has a category titled “course attempts”. That category broke down into 23 per cent of course attempts being in Certificate I short courses, and 36 per cent were in Certificate II, which are entry-level courses that usually don’t require pre-requisites to get in.
While 20 per cent of the attempts were in Certificate III, 12 per cent Certificate IV, and nine per cent diploma courses.
However 49 per cent of those trained had already completed tertiary education, with 8.4 per cent already having a bachelor degree or higher, 6.6 per cent had a diploma or associate diploma, 1.4 per cent an advanced diploma or associate degree, and 12.5 per cent Certificate IV.
Batchelor also had one PhD and one master student graduate, while 16 PhD and three masters students enrolled.
Some academic highlights
Ms Anderson said in the report that a highlight for the year in higher education had been Kungarakan traditional owner and the Institute’s Elder Academic, Associate Professor Sue Stanton, as well as Alyawarre woman and Associate Professor Kathryn Gilbey, winning a grant along with six others to investigate how to integrate Indigenous knowledge into doctoral education to address ecological and social issues in Australia such as the major bush fires of the 2019-2020 summer.
She said the Institute had won the 2020 Australian Training Awards Industry Collaboration for its Regional Force Surveillance Group education and development course with the Australian Defence Force.