Budget 2021: unis key to post-covid recovery

Australian universities have proposed a comprehensive package of initiatives designed to strengthen universities’ role in the nation’s economic success, ahead of next week’s Federal Budget.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the 12 targeted initiatives were designed to protect the nation’s education and research assets.

“2021 continues to be an uncertain operating environment for universities. Last year, the sector welcomed Government recognition of the need to support university research, with $1 billion emergency research funding delivered in the October Budget,” Ms Jackson said.

“That one-off $1 billion injection has – and will continue to – save some jobs and critical research capacity.”

“It’s vital we continue to work with Government to identify ways of providing a long-term, sustainable funding system.”

“In a time of economic disruption, innovation and a productive skilled workforce become even more crucial to maintaining Australia’s competitiveness and prosperity.”

“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 robust response to the pandemic.”

Ms Jackson said the safe return of international students continued to be a priority for the sector.

“International students bring great cultural and economic wealth with them, contributing $40 billion to gross domestic product and supporting 250,000 jobs pre-pandemic.”

“It is time for a constructive national plan for the safe return of international students, bringing together the efforts of universities, state and territory governments with the Commonwealth.”

The submission’s recommendations include:

  • The Australian Government should consider additional stabilisation funding for university research.
  • The Australian Government should increase long-term investment in university research, reaffirming its central role in providing substantial long-term support for an essential pillar that underpins national prosperity, competitiveness and security.
  • Adequate support for state and territory plans to bring international students back into Australia.
  • Direct support for industry to work with universities to commercialise research (e.g., investigate the introduction of a US style Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR).
  • The extension of HELP loans to students looking to retrain through micro-credentials.
  • The opening of demand-driven places to all Indigenous students (this currently only applies to regional and remote Indigenous students).
  • Funding for a time-limited health service placement adjustment package to support current and future health workforce supply.
  • Hardship funding for students hit hard by the pandemic, and not eligible for other income support.
  • Exempt the time international students spend participating in industry-based learning from the work hour limit imposed by student visa conditions.
  • Examination of the impact of Job-ready Graduates changes with particular attention to impacts on universities’ finances, student choice and a potential extension of the Transition Fund.
  • Continuation of student visa flexibility measures that were introduced during COVID-19.
  • Funding for a university scoping study to explore models for due diligence information sharing amongst universities and between Government and universities.

“These initiatives will pay dividends for the nation in both the short and longer term,” Ms Jackson said.

“We look forward to continuing to work with Government and industry to enhance the nation’s skills, resilience and economic prosperity.”

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