Two of Australia’s leading vice-chancellors have hit out at the Federal Government’s attempts to direct students into specific university courses.
- Education Minister Dan Tehan has announced a shake-up of university course fees
- Fees for some courses like arts will double next year, while other course fees will be reduced
- Two vic-chancellors say the changes won’t help them deal with the loss of revenue due to COVID-19
“Well, it’s certainly not going to help us out of the budget hole,” ANU’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt, told 7.30.
“The reality is our budget crisis is much larger than what this package provides any relief from.”
“It will make a little bit of a difference,” Deakin University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Iain Martin, said.
“But it’s certainly not going to remove the need for us having to make some of the most difficult and challenging decisions that universities have had to face.”
Education Minister Dan Tehan said the changes would send a “price signal” to students in an attempt to make more of them “ready for the jobs of the future”.
The majority of higher education institutions will not receive any extra funding.
COVID-19 campus cash crisis
Analysis by the Grattan Institute and the ANU show foreign students make up 26 per cent of all public university funding in Australia.
However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, at least one in five foreign students have not returned to Australia this year and the next two years also look bleak.
That loss of revenue has led to hundreds of casual university staff losing their jobs.
The funding also normally subsidises research, which bolsters an institution’s international rankings.
The Grattan Institute’s John Daley says universities are in trouble.
Mr Tehan said the first priority the university sector asked for was a guarantee of existing funding, which he said, “continues to grow at record levels”.
He is now considering a package to help universities maintain their research rates.
“There’s still challenges when it comes to international students, and how they were cross subsidising research in this country,” he said.
“That’s something that I’ve committed to work with the sector on over the coming months.”
More jobs to go
So far it has been casual lecturers, tutors and other staff whose jobs have been cut.
“We’ve pulled back on what we spend on buildings and on projects, we’ve looked at all of the discretionary expenditure,” Professor Martin said.
“But unfortunately, like all universities, some 55 per cent of our total expenditure is on people.
“We’ve talked about 400 jobs, but 100 of those were vacancies in the system already.”
Professor Schmidt thinks the changes may actually make it harder for universities to deliver education in some areas.
“I think the unintended consequence of this package is that it lowers the funding that a university gets for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths),” he said.
“And so that disincentivises us to invest in that and take lots and lots of students.”
Whatever ways universities find to increase revenues or decrease costs, they face a tough road until foreign students can fully return.
“It’s possible that we will see universities that essentially have to file for insolvency — I think is very unlikely,” Mr Daley said.
“But most universities are going to deal with the fact that they’re just going to have to make a number of very difficult decisions.”