- Australian universities have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the collapse in the number of international students blowing a hole in their bottom line.
- To claw back what is in some instances hundreds of millions of dollars, universities have taken to cutting hundreds and thousands of staff.
- While exact figures are hard to come by, the union representing staff says more than 11,000 jobs are to be cut under current plans while Universities Australia expects there to be 21,000 job losses by the year’s end.
As the global pandemic rumbles on, Australia’s higher education system is shedding its workforce at an alarming rate.
Having largely bet the house on international students, Australian universities are now in withdrawal as their flood of tuition fees slows to a trickle.
Their disappearance from the country is stark. According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 143,810 international students arrived in July 2019. This year, less than 40 slipped through.
International students make up nearly one-third of all students in Australia, but by virtue of paying higher fees upfront, make up a far bigger piece of the revenue pie. Early modelling suggests universities will lose $19 billion over the next three years.
The consequences are clear, with some universities like the University of Sydney (USYD) and University of Melbourne facing the prospect of billion-dollar losses. Just as aviation and tourism workers before them, university staff have become the collateral damage as institutions look to cut costs in response.
It has seen many institutions freeze hiring and wage increases, implement travel bans, and issue directives to let go of contract staff. Universities Australia has forecast 21,000 jobs will go by the year’s end.
While it’s difficult to ascertain exact figures, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has been tracking redundancies closely and puts the total number of job losses at more than 11,100 so far, but suspects the reality is far worse.
“Part of the problem is that the whole area of casual employment is completely opaque,” NTEU spokesperson Michael Evans told Business Insider Australia.
“Universities aren’t required to report the actual number of casual staff they employ, other than in Victoria, and because of the nature of their employment, casual staff can be easily terminated or not re-employed, with very little recording of those processes.”
With an estimated 100,000 causal staff employed in the sector, “there is enormous scope for the real job loss figures to be significantly higher” and climbing still, according to Evans.
This then is an approximation of how bad staff at universities have been affected already.
University of New South Wales (UNSW)
UNSW has nearly 500 job cuts planned, including 265 forced redundancies, accounting around 7.5% of its staff. The University has also announced it will cut 25% of management and consolidate its eight faculties into six.
University of Technology, Sydney (UTS)
While UTS haven’t finalised their numbers or implemented planned cuts, the union speculates there are as many as 600 full-time jobs that could be axed on top of an unknown number of fixed-term staff. International students are responsible for more than 40% of the University’s annual revenue, or $470 million.
Charles Sturt University (CSU)
There are more than 100 full-time positions on the chopping board at one of the country’s largest regional universities although CSU hasn’t disclosed which positions are at risk. It has also abandoned or made changes to more than 100 of its courses in an effort to cut costs.
The Sydney university hasn’t made any official announcement but the union says there are several hundred positions on the chopping block.
Australian National University (ANU)
ANU, one of the largest employers in Canberra, has cut around 465 staff, including 250 voluntary redundancies announced this week and an unknown number of casuals. Its recovery plan is looking to save up to $250 million in preparation next year.
While Perth’s largest university has not announced precise figures, it has revealed it plans on saving $30 million in voluntary or forced redundancies. While those arrangements are still being finalised, it has indicated 250 or more staff could be departing.
The union says it’s aware of nearly 2,500 casual job losses at Deakin. The university has also announced 300 forced redundancies and eliminated 100 other vacant positions but has since put further cuts on hold.
University of Sydney (USYD)
While the University of Sydney has been reluctant to release numbers, Business Insider Australia understands that like UTS its revenue shortfall runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
As a result, its let go of a “significant” number of casual staff but is yet to finalise redundancy numbers that are expected to be high.
University of Melbourne
Melbourne Uni is another that has kept tight-lipped on exact numbers, but it’s understood that more than 260 casuals have been let go while 450 other jobs have been axed. An unknown number of fixed employees have also been let go, with the full job loss figures expected to be much higher than the 712 known.
University of Wollongong (UoW)
While UoW has announced it will make redundant the equivalent of 200 full-time positions, it could have been worse. The NTEU claims it managed to get that down from the 400 initially planned.
La Trobe University
The union knows of 2,518 casual job losses at La Trobe. On top of that, nearly 240 voluntary redundancies have been made, the equivalent of 160 full-time roles, while there are anywhere between 215 and 415 more positions expected to go.
In total, Monash is expected to cut 754 jobs. That includes 277 redundancies, 238 fixed-term employees and 239 casuals.
RMIT has made 475 redundancies, cut more than 300 fixed-term staff and at least 200 casuals.
Swinburne has received 200 voluntary redundancies and made significant cuts to its causal workforce.
University of New England (UNE)
UNE has confirmed 200 positions will go under its cost-cutting plan that would seek to save $20 million a year.
Victoria University is seeking 100 redundancies and slashed 104 casual positions, but has not yet released full figures.
University of Queensland (UoQ)
There have been 66 redundancies made, with many taking place at the University’s English language centre for obvious reasons.
Still, in the early stages, there are around 200 pending redundancies pending at Murdoch University.
Charles Darwin University
There are 100 positions “likely” to be lost at Charles Darwin University but cuts have not yet confirmed.