Extend JobKeeper to stop uni job losses

We call on the Morrison Government to do the one thing that it has consistently refused to do so far during this Covid crisis, to support Australian universities and prevent the loss of 21,000 full time jobs over the next year.

Democrats tertiary education campaigner, Alex Smith

From the beginning of the crisis, financial support for the tertiary sector has been limited. While the sector initially welcomed the Government’s funding guarantee for domestic students, the revenue lost from international students presents a huge risk to university budgets that will result in massive job losses if further Commonwealth support isn’t provided. 

Universities were one of the first sectors in the economy to be hit as international students were unable to get into the country from early February due to travel restrictions. As stage 3 lockdowns took hold across the country, the Morrison Government introduced the then $130 billion dollar Jobkeeper program to help industry keep workers on. From the beginning though this program excluded universities and several further tweaks by the Coalition made it even harder for universities from later accessing the scheme in May and June. 

Even after the Treasury realised they’d over-estimated JobKeeper by a cool $60 billion, the Government still refused to expand the program to include university staff. This is not even to mention the lack of support offered to those international students who were in Australia and found themselves, by no fault of their own, unable to work or support themselves.

The inability of university staff to access JobKeeper now places thousands of positions at risk. AAP recently reported that in front of a Senate committee examining the Government’s Covid response, the head of Universities Australia Catriona Jackson, said the crisis had already seen universities lose 3000 jobs and that it could rise to a total of 21,000 by early next year. 

In addition to this, universities are staring down the barrel of $16 billion in losses over the next 4 years. Even the Group of 8 uni’s has modelled that they alone could lose up to 6700 jobs due to the drop in international students.

The Education Minister last year lauded the growth of international students studying here – there’s now a definite change of tune.

Even though there is a heavy reliance on the fees paid by international students, the message from the Liberal party is that universities are on their own to sort out this one. 

This is despite the fact that the valuable education offered by Australian universities to international students has become the country’s 3rd largest export, at over $37 billion dollars. That’s more than the entire exports of the gas sector which is slated to play a huge role in the NCCC’s fossil-fueled post-Covid economic recovery. 

The loss of tens of thousands of positions will have a massive impact on the future and quality of Australian research and could potentially lead to a brain drain, particularly for regional universities if academics have to leave those areas in order to pursue other opportunities. 

Until now universities have been increasing their investment in research and innovation. The danger is that if universities are unable to continue funding this activity, Australia’s ability to innovate its way out of the COVID-19 recession will be severely hampered.

You can’t have an economic recovery without investing in research and development.

Catriona Jackson

After 6 months, the time has now come for the Government to use some of the $60 billion that it had set aside for the JobKeeper program and expand it to cover the university sector.

Photo by Joan Tran on Unsplash

(And a shoutout to all those wonderful Unsplash photographers who allow us to use their work for free!)

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