Federal government urged to step in for struggling universities following thousands of job losses

Unions estimate the number of job losses from Australian universities is around 11,000, amid calls from Labor and unions for more help for the industry.

The Australian National University (ANU) says COVID-19 will force it to shed hundreds of jobs from its workforce.

The Australian National University (ANU) says COVID-19 will force it to shed hundreds of jobs from its workforce. Source: AAP

Labor has stepped up calls for the federal government to help Australian universities struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of job losses from the sector hit an estimated 11,000.

The Australian National University (ANU) and University of New South Wales (UNSW) became the latest in the industry to announce they were shedding a collective 471 jobs amid a downturn in international student fee revenue.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) estimates the job losses at universities across the country to be over 10,000.

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Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek criticised the federal government again for not extending the JobKeeper payments to the higher education sector.

“This is our fourth largest export industry. If coal or gas or iron ore were facing this huge hit to their revenue, the government would be there to help with JobKeeper,” she said on Thursday.

“University bosses should be demanding that the government stand in, step in and help.”

RMIT said it recently accepted 355 applications for voluntary redundancies and it was “currently in consultation on a number of potential change proposals” across the university.

“While no final decisions will be made until consultation is completed and feedback has been considered, should the proposals proceed it could see up to 250 job losses across the University,” the university said in a statement to SBS News.

The NTEU  said the 11,000 job loss figure was an underestimation, given it hadn’t taken into account those that had already lost jobs as well as casuals not included in the data.

NTEU national president Alison Barnes said the government had 'abandoned' the sector.

“We have people standing in line in (job) clinics who should be in classrooms teaching,” she said.

Ms Barnes called on the government to design a rescue package for the sector.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said in a statement to SBS News: “The government announced a higher education package committing to provide universities with more than $18 billion this year, even if they have a fall in domestic student numbers. I have convened a working group of university Vice-Chancellors to provide advice about sustainable approaches to research funding for universities during COVID-19 and beyond.”


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2 min read
Published 17 September 2020 at 3:39pm
By Rashida Yosufzai