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Universities’ JobKeeper exclusion was ‘appropriate’, report says

Australian public universities were ineligible for income support scheme during Covid-19 pandemic

The exclusion of Australia’s public universities from the Covid-19 JobKeeper income support scheme was “appropriate”, a report for the Treasury has said.

Universities hit by the pandemic were forced to either pay locked-down staff themselves or shed workers.

The JobKeeper scheme, which was announced soon after the start of the pandemic in early 2020 by the former Liberal-National coalition government, provided employers whose income had dropped with A$1,500 a fortnight per eligible worker, in order to prevent job losses. 

The report to the Treasury on 27 October, written by independent expert Nigel Ray, says that the exclusion of universities and some other federally funded services was reasonable.

The exclusion was enforced by adjusting the time period on which universities’ eligibility was calculated and by exempting government payments from overall income, which meant that universities did not suffer a sufficient hit to their revenue to qualify. Many universities, particularly those with a large number of international students, suffered large drops in income but were unable to claim.

“In principle, sector‑focused policies tailored to the specific challenges and needs of these organisations would have been more appropriate forms of support than JobKeeper,” Ray wrote.

The report did not assess whether these other forms of support were adequate.

Australian universities received a A$1 billion research support package in the 2020 federal budget.

Earlier analysis

A 2021 analysis of the JobKeeper scheme by higher education researcher Andrew Norton found that many universities would not have suffered a sufficient hit to their revenues to qualify for JobKeeper even without the adjustment.

Norton wrote that in some cases, legally separate business entities owned by universities did receive the subsidy.