The figures for 2020 are now available. Universities Australia’s 39 members collectively lost at least $1.8 billion in revenue compared to 2019. When assessed against universities’ pre-pandemic budgeted revenue for 2020, this loss increases to more than $3 billion – consistent with Universities Australia’s estimates made in April last year. More than 17,300 jobs have been lost on campuses.
Revenue losses will mount year on year. Universities Australia estimates that in 2021 university revenue will decline by a further $2 billion. Unfortunately, it is probable we will see further jobs losses.
All of Australia’s universities conduct research. This is a defining feature of our world-class system. The nation’s capacity to undertake R&D is under threat in the face of continued revenue decline.
Universities welcome the Government’s recognition of the need for emergency assistance, delivered in last year’s Budget. The Government should consider continuing this stabilisation funding for university research. Universities also look forward to further discussion on long-term, sustainable investment in university research.
In a time of economic disruption and challenge, innovation and productivity become even more crucial to maintaining Australia’s competitiveness and economic wealth. Research creates the new ideas that fuel new processes, industries, products, services and jobs. This work is essential to national recovery, continuing prosperity and to our sovereign capability.
There is a great deal at stake. COVID-19 has demonstrated the breadth and depth of university expertise – medical researchers, epidemiologists, public health experts, economists, social scientists and others have all contributed to Australia’s effective response to the pandemic.
As Australia experienced its first recession in nearly 30 years, the Government recognised universities’ key role in educating the nation, retraining and upskilling citizens for new jobs. Universities look forward to continuing to work with Government and industry to enhance the nation’s skills, resilience and bottom line.
Australia’s international education business is the nation’s fourth biggest export industry, worth $40 billion to the nation in 2019. $23 billion of those earnings were injected into the wider economy through international students’ spending on goods and services.
Just as importantly, international education is vital to Australia’s connections with other countries in our region. Hundreds of thousands of graduates return from their time in Australia with knowledge and skills to benefit their home countries. These informal ambassadors for Australia are an unrivalled element of ‘soft power’ and forge enduring relationships with our neighbours.
This submission proposes 12 targeted initiatives to support and strengthen universities’ contribution to Australia’s future global success. These will pay dividends for the nation in both the short and longer term. Failure to invest in innovation and skills will put Australia’s post COVID-19 economic recovery at risk.