Australia's research sector 'hit hard' by COVID-19


The main source of revenue for many universities is international student enrolments, but when the spread of COVID-19 forced Australia to shut its borders to the world in March, funds dried up – and fast.

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, Australian university revenues have subsequently taken a beating, with some forecasts showing potential losses of up to $2.5bn in 2020 alone.

Modelling by Curtin University shows this could put 38% of research salaries at risk.

This week, a new report to the Federal Government has provided some compelling evidence for strong and sustained support for Australia’s research workforce.

Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, said the rapid research brief commissioned by the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission shows the scale of damage to Australia’s research sector.

“Australia’s research workforce will be hard hit by the pandemic and the effects are likely to be felt for years to come,” Jackson said.

According to the report, impacts include university job losses of up to 21,000 full time equivalent (FTE) positions over the next six months and a decline in revenue across the sector of between $3bn and $4.6bn in 2020.

The loss to university R&D alone is estimated at $2.5bn in 2020, placing at risk at least 38% of research salaries.

The report also highlighted concerns that women, early-career researchers and recent graduates will disproportionately experience negative impacts.

Jackson said a dramatic decline in research funding will have very serious effects - including a reduced capacity to innovate for industry - setting back national recovery.

“Universities perform around 90 per cent of the fundamental research undertaken in Australia and 43 per cent of all our nation’s applied research. Universities feed the entire research system, which in turn feeds national prosperity,” she said.

“With Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery at stake, we’re asking the Commonwealth to rethink, and to reinvest in research”.