Budget 2021: Unis urge national plan for safe return of international students

Federal Government Budget assumptions that Australia’s borders will remain shut until mid-2022 pose very serious challenges for the nation’s universities.

Universities Australia’s Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said: “Governments across all jurisdictions need to come together with universities to develop a robust plan for the safe return of international students. The plan would mean the careful quarantine of students from low-risk countries.”

“The sector took a $1.8 billion revenue hit last year. Universities Australia conservatively estimates at least another $2 billion will be lost this year – against 2019 actual operating revenue.”

“With assumptions around borders being shut until mid-2022 now baked into the Budget, the picture for universities will get worse. There will be significant flow-on effects for the nation’s research capacity and jobs inside and outside universities.”

“Australia’s university sector cannot sustain these losses without serious damage to national productivity and the country’s knowledge base.”

Universities are pleased to see the Budget assumptions include small pilot programs for international students commencing in late 2021, gradually increasing from 2022.

“These pilots will provide a useful proof of concept for a larger scale return of international students.”

“University research and development will be critical in the short-term to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as building a prosperous and globally-competitive economy in the future.”

“Universities warmly welcomed the extra $1 billion in October’s Budget for university research. The boost acknowledged the centrality of research to national recovery – it saved jobs and research capacity.”

“The sector will continue to work with Government on long-term plans for research sustainability,” Ms Jackson said.

The peak body representing the nation’s 39 comprehensive universities welcomed announcements in the Budget designed to skill up aged-care workers, undertake aged-care workforce planning, tackle gender-based violence and improve mental health resourcing.

“Universities are where the next generation of workers will learn their skills, whether in aged-care or mental health or violence prevention, and make life better for all Australians, whatever their background or circumstances.”

Other Budget measures relevant to the higher education sector include:

  • $1.1 million over two years from 2020-21 to create new employment pathways for students and boost financial incentives for universities to enrol students in ‘Industry PhDs’.
  • A new $54.2 million Global Science and Technology Diplomacy Fund to support strategically important science and technology collaborations with global partners.
  • $42.4 million over seven years to establish the Boosting the Next Generation of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Program by co-funding scholarships for women in STEM in partnership with industry.
  • Initiatives to support the delivery of primary care and the health workforce in rural and remote Australia.
  • $216.7 million over three years from 2021-22 to grow and upskill the aged-care workforce through additional nursing scholarships and places and related measures.
  • $27.8 million to increase the number of nurses, psychologists and allied health practitioners working in mental health settings through 280 scholarships and 350 clinical placements.
  • A $9 million cut over five years to the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teachers (QILT) suite of surveys.
  • Funding for the Australian Awards for University Teaching and the Learning and Teaching Repository will end after the 2021 awards.
  • Additional post-graduate scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait nurses and allied health professionals to undertake formal aged-care and dementia qualifications.

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