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A further 215 positions at the Australian National University and 256 at the University of New South Wales will be made redundant, as the collapse of international student revenue continues to trigger cuts in the higher education sector.
The announcements on Wednesday bring to 465 the number of jobs cut at the ANU as the university seeks to save $103m a year from 2021 to 2023 to cope with the Covid-19 downturn.
The National Tertiary Education Union said cuts in Australian universities now totalled “well over 11,000”, without counting several thousand casual and fixed-term staff who have been sacked or not re-employed.
Universities Australia estimates the sector will lose up to $16bn by 2023, triggering 21,000 job losses in 2020 alone, but on Wednesday the education minister, Dan Tehan, expressed optimism Australian universities would be in an even better position to attract international students when travel resumed.
The university sector is planning for a massive restructure of domestic student fees in 2021 due to the Coalition’s jobs-ready graduate package and is looking to the October budget to boost research funding due to the loss of international student revenue previously used to subsidise research.
At the ANU, a vote to defer pay rises in July saved $13.5m – up to 90 jobs – but a further $103m annually will be saved, with half that to come from salaries.
Some 230 staff have already accepted voluntary redundancy, with a further 20 to come in addition to the 215 positions announced on Wednesday.
The UNSW vice-chancellor, Ian Jacobs, announced his university would cut the equivalent of 3.8% of its workforce to achieve $39m in savings.
Jacobs told staff in an email that UNSW had faced a $370m financial gap in 2021 but had relied on savings and reserves to deal with 80% of the shortfall. Voluntary redundancies achieved half the remaining $75m of cuts required.
“I deeply regret the impact on staff who will lose their jobs,” Jacobs said. “All staff affected in this way will receive a redundancy package and we will do all that we can to assist them with the next steps in their career.
“Unfortunately, UNSW is not insulated from the national and global impact of the pandemic.”
The ANU vice-chancellor, Brian Schmidt, said the changes required were “painful” but sacrifices were necessary because “there will be less money in our systems for the foreseeable future”.
“This is not a course of action we wanted to take, but it is our only viable option going forward if we want to remain a sustainable, stable university.”
The NTEU national president, Alison Barnes, accused the government of sitting “idly watching thousands and thousands of jobs disappearing from higher education”.
On Wednesday Tehan told the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia that the university sector’s “foundations are solid” and it had a “very, very bright future”.
The reduction in the number of international students had “struck a real blow” to the sector, but Tehan committed to “ensure we continue to underpin research in this nation” through a working group negotiating a new research funding system.
“From everything I’m hearing and seeing from international students the demand is still there,” he said. “We will see new growth purely from the way we’ve been able to handle the pandemic.”
Based on demand for online courses and visa applications, Tehan said, Australia will be “in an even stronger position to compete for international students” when we “hit the virus on the head”.
The chief executive of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, told Ceda research funding was “the most important question for our nation” because “without research we can’t have a decent recovery” from Covid-19. Every dollar invested returned five-fold, she said.
The federal government has guaranteed universities $18bn of funding for domestic student places but declined to bail out the sector, making rule changes that left all public universities ineligible for jobkeeper wage subsidies.
In June, it released its jobs-ready graduate package that proposes to reduce the overall government contribution to degrees from 58% to 52% and increase fees for some courses, including humanities, to pay for fee cuts in sciences and 39,000 extra university places by 2023.
Despite significant criticisms, many universities including the peak body Universities Australia have now signalled they will support the package to achieve funding certainty.
Announcements bring the number of jobs lost at Australian universities this year to more than 11,000, not including casuals or contract staff