Job losses hitting casual teaching staff in the university sector are forcing researchers to stop clinical work and teach, putting Australia’s vaccine program at risk after 2022.
COVID-19 and lack of government support have put pressure on the education sector with Universities Australia expecting 21,000 job losses by the end of the year. Underfunding, border closures and ineligibility for JobKeeper have further impacted the sector.
Trent Munro, from the University of Queensland, which is at the forefront of finding a COVID-19 vaccine, thinks universities are being overlooked.
are driving much of the underpinning research that is helping the fight against
COVID-19 from public health policy, epidemiology and treatments or vaccines,”
He said the result will be a decline in the overall capability of Australian university research.
“My concern is that without the
right type of bridging support we could see deep impacts to Australia’s future
research capabilities,” he said.
“Which will in turn directly
impact our capabilities to respond to future challenges – pandemics or
The National Liberal Party
believe they support education in Australia and stand by their contribution to
Media adviser to Education
Minister Dan Tehan says the NLP assist those that work in universities.
“Funding for universities will
increase by $2 billion to 2024,” he said.
“Universities are eligible for
JobKeeper in the same way as any other business in Australia.
“They can access JobKeeper if
they can demonstrate a 30 per cent reduction in revenue, or a 50 per cent
reduction if turnover is over $1 billion.”
But Australia’s public universities
are currently ineligible because they must show a drop of
revenue over six months, rather than over one month or one-quarter like other
charities and businesses.
Michael Evans from the National
Tertiary Education Union says the Liberal government made it very difficult for
university employees to receive job keeper.
“The federal government changed
the rules for JobKeeper three times to prevent Australian public university
employees from accessing it,” he said.
Mr Evans thinks that research
generally will be affected by the loss of university jobs.
“Both in terms of research jobs themselves, as well as the capacity of universities to cross-subsidise research activities from student income streams, and particularly international student income.”
For the present pandemic some
academics believe that research is still a priority for the government.
Mark Warburton from Melbourne
University says Australia has a strong focus on medical research and the
emphasis on that appears to be supported by both governments and universities,
regardless of JobKeeper.
“I think Australia’s public universities
continue to have a strong sense of social responsibility and would be
supporting the relevant research teams at this time,” he said.
As far as JobKeeper is concerned Mr Warburton thinks the government has been unclear with the regulations for university employees to apply.
“The government put in place specific
rules for JobKeeper which effectively resulted in public universities not
getting any JobKeeper,” Mr Warburton said.
With the budget released last
week, advocates for education still see a lack of encouragement from the
government. Members of the NTEU believe the budget has amplified the
governments war on universities.
Dr Alison Barnes, the national president of the NTEU says Australia should be a nation that invents things and the budget has almost wiped that ambition out.
“The $1 billion allocated in the budget for research, which won praise from obsequious university lobby groups and ingratiating vice-chancellors, is nothing more than spin and sugar,” Ms Barnes told The Australian.
“As Ian Marshman and Frank
Larkins at Melbourne University have made clear, Australian universities face a
$7.2 billion research funding shortfall due to the collapse of international
Union members state the budget announcement
will allow some research programs to conclude but will not allow universities
to give thousands of researchers the permanent jobs they require to conduct
Those in the university sector
see the support for research now we are in a pandemic but are nervous for the
Frank Larkins from Melbourne University says medical research, especially vaccine research, has received quite a lot of additional funding this year.
“My understanding is that colleagues do have sufficient money to retain their staff in this essential area of research at least for 2020-21,” he said.