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Universities ineligible for JobKeeper, international students miss out in higher education relief package

The announcement explicitly prioritises domestic students over international students.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has announced a higher education relief package which is “unashamedly focused on domestic students.”

The higher education package includes an already budgeted $18 billion for domestic students regardless of higher education enrolment numbers.

An additional 20,000 places in short term teaching, health and IT and science courses will also be provided, alongside $100 million in regulatory relief for higher education providers.

However, universities remain unable to access the JobKeeper payment. Speaking on the matter, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) President Dr. Alison Barnes said, “without it tens of thousands of jobs in the sector are still threatened.”

Likewise, international students remain ineligible for any welfare assistance, and no new targeted measures were announced today. 

“We’re also disappointed that the government has effectively abandoned international students, who may face being stranded here with no money and no income. We’re happy to take their money in the good times, to the point where it made up over 26% of university income in 2018. But we say ‘sorry, you’re on your own’ in the bad times? This is shameful behaviour,” Dr. Barnes said.

The package does little to address the funding shortfalls universities are facing from declining international student numbers. The University of Sydney alone projects a $470 million loss this semester, in large part because of a 17 per cent drop in international student numbers.

Students’ Representative Council (SRC) President Liam Donohoe told Honi, “this funding ‘support’ — which amounts to literally nothing more than the government paying the same amount they were already going to pay — will do nothing to reduce cost pressures.”

“As a result, these ‘announcements’ do nothing to maintain staff employment, course quantity, and overall quality, and are instead just a tokenistic window-dressing designed to make the public think the government has taken action.”

Universities Australia (UA) estimates that 16 per cent all jobs at Australian universities will go within the next six months.

Addressing the government’s announcement, UA Chair Professor Deborah Terry noted that, “individual universities are already cutting costs across the board through very substantial reductions in operational spending, deferral of vital capital works, and reductions in senior staff salaries.”

“However, this will be nowhere near enough to cover what we conservatively estimate as a revenue decline of between $3 billion and $4.6 billion.”

Today’s announcement echoes Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week, when he said, “at this time, Australia must focus on its citizens. Our focus and our priority is on supporting Australians and Australian residents with the economic supports that are available.”

More to come.