New figures released by Universities Australia have revealed that Australian universities lost over 17,000 staff and an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2020 compared to 2019.
The universities’ operating revenue fell 4.9% in 2020, compared to the 2019 figures.
According to Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, the sector is estimated to lose a further $2 billion in 2021.
“When compared with universities’ pre-pandemic budgeted revenue for 2020, this loss is more than $3 billion – which is in line with the sector’s estimates made in April last year,” she said.
“The brutal reality of COVID-19 has made 2021 even more challenging.”
According to Ms Jackson, the continuing international border closure mean universities face fewer returning students in 2020, and reduced numbers in 2021. Ms Jackson said this impact will be felt by universities for years to come.
“If an international student didn’t enrol in 2020, the loss would be felt for what would have been their entire three or four years at university,” she said.
“No sector can absorb revenue declines this large without staff losses. At least 17,300 jobs have been lost on campuses in 2020.”
Ms Jackson said that while the schools have worked hard to limit job losses by halting infrastructure projects, making tough decisions about courses, and making savings wherever they could, it is likely further reductions will be seen this year.
“The loss of any – and every – one of those staff is personally devastating, bad for the university community, and Australia’s knowledge reservoir,” she said.
Ms Jackson said the federal government’s $1 billion for research made a difference to maintaining jobs and projects at universities but the effect of COVID-19 has come at a high cost and will continue to do so.
“Universities welcomed the injection of $1 billion for research announced by the government in October last year. It was an important acknowledgement that the jobs of the future are created by R&D, and that universities are central to national recovery,” Ms Jackson said.
“Universities Australia will continue to advocate for the needs of the sector at this time of crisis and will continue to talk with government about funding sustainability.”
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