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Tertiary relief package ‘too narrow’ to support research, says Go8

Image: CSIRO [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

University groups say federal package fails to address losses in research and international student enrolments

The federal government’s Covid-19 relief package for higher education is “too narrow” to support research, which is facing losses of up to $3 billion, according to the elite Group of Eight universities.

The Go8, which represents Australia’s biggest research-intensive universities, says that although the measures will provide funding certainty, more must be done to address financial challenges affecting research.

“We are delighted the government has maintained our trust by ensuring the continuation of the sector funding, which is already allocated in the budget forward estimates,” said Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson in a formal statement.

“However, we cannot ignore the fact that our research-intensive universities are facing a significant revenue shortfall of almost $3bn. While Go8 [universities] are already committing significant funds to help our institutions, their staff and their students manage through this crisis, our capacity to do so is rapidly being exhausted.”

The relief package was announced by education minister Dan Tehan on 12 April. It includes a guarantee to provide $18bn to fund places for domestic students, a reduction of $100 million in regulatory fees, and support for 20,000 workers to retrain through short online courses offered by universities.

Conor King, executive director of the Innovative Research Universities group, said the relief package was “only a partial answer” to the revenue impacts of the pandemic on higher education institutions.

“It still leaves universities facing a big hole in international student fee income, research funding and other commercial income. More still needs to be done to support international students.”   

Deborah Terry, chair of Universities Australia, said the relief package was “an important first step” to help tertiary institutions recover from the losses inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, universities face “a tough road ahead” with staff cuts, changes to courses and lost revenue from international student enrolments.

“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,” she said.

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