It is shameful that during this COVID-19 crisis the government has deliberately ignored the plight of our universities. Universities employ 250,000 people, including tens of thousands in regional areas. They educate 40 per cent more domestic students than they did in 2008, with very little additional funding. Education is our fourth-biggest export earner, with around $26 billion earned by universities out of $37 billion earned by all education. Forty-three per cent of all applied R&D in Australia is done in universities. In a post-COVID world we will need our research more than ever to make the scientific breakthroughs and build a stronger economy. The massive decline in international students will cost universities up to $4 billion this year and around $16 billion up to 2023. My own regional area of Corangamite, home to Deakin University, has been hit hard by the crisis, with Deakin announcing they will shed 400 jobs. About 22 per cent of their students were international until COVID. Like most other universities, Deakin has ignored the deal made between the Tertiary Education Union and Universities Australia to save jobs through wage cuts and freezes. A big shout-out to the NTEU for its sense of responsibility and leadership in a crisis, something this government could do well to emulate in higher education.
These are important jobs and real people. I have over 1,200 Deakin University staff living in my electorate, and I will continue to fight for you. It isn't just the direct workers that matter. Many people have bought investment properties to house the 440,000 international students who attend our universities. Many businesses rely on students as workers and to shop locally.
So where is the government's helping hand on this? Nowhere. The government's total disregard for universities isn't new and it shouldn't surprise us. The government has pushed universities to build their international student base. Their success means that international students are funding an increased share of university budgets. The coalition has let this increase in fees—over $7 billion last year—hide their own lacklustre contribution to both education and teaching of Australian students. Commonwealth funding for university R&D was around $3.1 billion in 2008. It was only $3.6 billion a decade later. The universities' own contribution has almost doubled from $3.6 billion to $6.8 billion over the same period. Around $1.8 billion in research funding is at risk this year alone as a result of the COVID crisis, and over $3 billion a year in the medium-term. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel estimates that this impacts around 7,000 research jobs. It's a disaster.
General Commonwealth contributions to higher education have stagnated in real terms. The figures show a real-price contribution of around $9.1 billion in 2009 and an estimated $9.4 billion in 2019. A key reason is that the coalition froze the Commonwealth Grants Scheme for domestic student places in 2018 and 2019. For this year, a share of the CGS payments is tied to a performance based system. Increases in that performance component are tied to the growth in the 18-64 age group nationally—only 1.4 per cent at most. That won't cover increased costs, let alone the increased demand that will come from the Costello baby bonus kids coming of age in the next seven years.
And then along came the coronavirus, which has knocked the stuffing out of the international student market. And given this government's inept handling of the China relationship, it seems now probable that this fall in students will be longer and more pronounced than we imagined four months ago.
This coalition government has done nothing to help, apart from guaranteeing CGS funding through to the end of the year and some money for short courses. There is not even a guarantee to maintain the Commonwealth funding for the next year. They've excluded universities from JobKeeper, even altering guidelines when it looked like La Trobe University had found a loophole. So a casual tutor with a young family has to go on Jobseeker. Meanwhile, her student earning $400 a week at a pub is entitled to $750 a week on JobKeeper. Go figure!
Last week the coalition launched yet another flawed rescue package, this time for private residential construction. Yet they remain silent about the plight of one of Australia's biggest and most important industries. It is disgraceful, and they should fix it now.Share Tweet