Australia’s university sector is facing turmoil due to severe revenue losses and government reform of tertiary funding.
The University of Melbourne’s Centre of Higher Education has found that Australia’s public universities have collectively lost approximately $3.8 billion dollars in revenue.
The dramatic reduction in international student enrolments and hardship caused by COVID-19 has been attributed as the cause of the crisis.
Australian universities have so far gotten rid of 5600 full-time equivalent jobs, and the number of casual university academics are expected to surpass 15,000.
The loss of funding for university research is also expected to radically reduce as a result of this.
The Conversation has reported that research spending will decrease by up to $7.6 billion by 2024.
Individual universities have started to report how the COVID-19 has impacted their revenue.
In an email sent to students, University of Technology Sydney reported losses of $60-80 million for 2020 and expects the losses for 2021-2022 to be well over $100 million per year.
For Macquarie University, losses have forced them to cut entire courses in mathematics and science, whilst roughly half of arts majors will discontinue in 2021.
Students and staff at Macquarie University have reportedly been protesting the proposed cuts.
Associate Professor Nikki Balnave, the President of the National Tertiary Education Union Macquarie Uni Branch commented in a statement that Macquarie University “is ramming these cuts through without consulting with staff or students”.
Australian universities also face uncertainty over government amendments to their funding, which is currently being debated in the Senate.
The Job-Ready Graduates package reforms have come under controversy for raising the prices of humanities degrees, and for expelling students who fail half of their first year subjects.
When the reforms were announced in June, Education Minister Dan Tehan said in a statement that: “To power our post-COVID economic recovery, Australia will need more educators, more health professionals and more engineers, and that is why we are sending a price signal to encourage people to study in areas of expected employment growth.”
Tasmanian Senator Jackie Lambie has commented against the bill in a statement released on Wednesday.
“This bill makes university life harder for poor kids and poor parents. And not only does it not have the same impact on wealthy families, it even gives them sweetheart little discounts”, she said.
Labor’s Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek has also come out in opposition to the amendments, saying that: “Scott Morrison’s university plan is a total fraud that doesn’t deserve backing from anyone with common sense or a conscience”.
Currently, the sentae bill is in voting and it is expected to finish being debated within the coming weeks.
The impact that the government reforms will have to universities over the next decade will not be fully known.