COVID pandemic causes 17,300 job losses in Australian university sector


Australian universities have been hit hard with further job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic’s seismic shift to the tertiary education sector.

More than 17,300 jobs in the Australian university sector have been lost since 2020 on the back of the travel bans stopping international students entering the country.

Universities Australia, the sector’s peak body, estimates a loss of about $1.8 billion in revenue last year compared to the prior year.

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The loss amounts to more than $3 billion of pre-pandemic forecasted revenue for 2020.

The university sector is expecting to lose another $2 billion in 2021 with travel bans still firmly in place and expected to remain shut for most of this year since the international border to Australia was shut in March 2020.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson expects the hit to universities to be felt for years to come.

“The brutal reality of COVID-19 has made 2021 even more challenging,” she said in a statement.

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“Continuing border closures mean universities face the double whammy of fewer returning students in 2020, and reduced numbers in 2021. The cumulative impact won’t be felt just in 2020 and 2021, but for years to come,” she said.

“If an international student didn’t enrol in 2020, the loss would be felt for what would have been their entire three or four years at university,” she said.

“No sector can absorb revenue declines this large without staff losses. At least 17,300 jobs have been lost on campuses in 2020,” she added.

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“Universities have worked hard to limit job losses by halting infrastructure projects, making tough decisions about courses and making savings wherever they could – but the effect of COVID-19 on the higher education sector has come at a real cost,” Ms Jackson said.

“Unfortunately, it is probable we will see further reductions this year. The loss of any, and every, one of those staff is personally devastating, bad for the university community and Australia’s knowledge reservoir,” she added.

The Federal Government has forked out $1 billion to fund research in universities, which Ms Jackson highlighted.

“It was an important acknowledgment that the jobs of the future are created by R&D, and that universities are central to national recovery,” she said.

“Universities Australia will continue to advocate for the needs of the sector at this time of crisis and will continue to talk with government about funding sustainability,” Ms Jackson said.

The sector was excluded from the government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy, despite warnings the decision would lead to huge job losses.



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