The Victorian Government has announced $350m in funding for the state’s universities to support economic recovery and local jobs.
Universities Australia recently released modelling estimating the short-term revenue hit to universities would be between $3bn and $4.6bn, putting at risk around 21,000 jobs in the next six months.
To address this, the Andrews Government launched a $45m support package for international students, which included relief payments of up to $1,100, co-contributed by Victorian universities.
International education is Australia’s fourth largest export, with universities contributing $7.5bn in export income in 2018-19, supporting more than 35,000 in full time equivalent jobs.
The newly-announced $350m Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund will support universities with capital works, applied research and research partnerships that will boost Victoria’s productivity and economy as the state recovers from the impacts of virus, which have hit universities hard.
Works will be focused on new technology and infrastructure that enables universities to conduct new research, commercialise Intellectual property and create high-value jobs.
The Government will also offer universities payroll tax deferrals valued at around $110m, providing immediate relief for universities dealing with a shortfall in funds from the downturn of international student enrolments and other revenue loss as a result of coronavirus.
The Victorian Government expects universities to use this funding to retain as many staff as possible, so their institutions are well-placed to drive the revival of the state’s economy out of the coronavirus crisis.
Victorian Minister for Higher Education Gayle Tierney said the funding is an “important step to underpin the sustainability of these important institutions”.
“This investment not only supports our universities through this crisis, it ensures we have a strong Higher Education sector as we move to recovery,” she said.
Universities have welcomed the new funding. Professor John Dewar, Vice-Chancellor at La Trobe University, said the investment “acknowledges the pivotal role universities play in assisting economic recovery in educating and re-skilling the workforce and in conducting life-changing research for which we are globally recognised”.
“By focusing on investment in strategic research, the funding will help fill at least some of the significant funding gap caused by a substantial drop in international student revenue,” Professor Dewar said.
Professor Margaret Gardner, Monash University president and Vice-Chancellor, said that the funding “provides immediate relief to meet the shortfall in revenue that many universities are experiencing and by doing so saves jobs.”
“It also acknowledges the vital contribution universities make to Victoria,” she said.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said that while the investment is good news for Victoria’s universities, more work is needed to assist the sector at the national level.
“There are 39 comprehensive universities in Australia, and they are all affected in some way by COVID-19,” Jackson said.
“Now is the time for the Federal Government to reconsider its approach so far and reinvest in universities at a national level”.