Government stimulus package ignores Australian universities, again

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is disappointed that the second stimulus package to counter the severe economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic announced by the Morrison government yesterday fails to address the growing need for a rescue package for the higher education sector.

“Given the urgent need to curtail the spread of the epidemic, most universities are likely to close for some period of time, as most grapple with how to continue with courses online,” NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes said today.

“This is putting enormous pressure on staff, and in particular casual staff, whose already insecure jobs are even more uncertain.”

“We cautiously welcome the government’s initiative to enable affected workers who meet the government’s eligibility requirements to access special payments through Newstart,” Dr Barnes said.

“But this will not cover everyone who loses hours or their job and is in stark contrast to the UK and NZ governments who are providing direct subsidies to partially cover wages for affected workers.

“In relying on the current welfare system to support us in a crisis, the Morrison government is simply putting further pressure on an already under-resourced social welfare safety net – a hopelessly inefficient mechanism to deliver real outcomes quickly.”

Dr Barnes said that in six days over 10,000 people had signed the Union’s petition calling on university Vice Chancellors to agree to paid leave for all their staff who are quarantined or forced to take leave because of the Coronavirus, as well as supporting a government rescue package.

“We urge everyone who supports higher education to sign the petition.”

Dr Barnes said that the only response from the government has been that universities don’t require government support because they can ‘live off’ their combined assets, which is mostly bricks and mortar.

“While some of the larger metro-based universities may have the financial resources to weather this crisis, many of our smaller and regional universities, ELICOS, private providers and vocational education and training are already impacted severely. The sector is grappling with the financial uncertainties of government funding freezes, the loss of international student income and the fall in student funding as domestic students withdraw from cancelled classes that cannot be transferred online.”

“Researchers, too, will be impacted should universities and research institutes be forced to close their doors for an extended period, and could lead to delays to important research programs. , Any further pressures from having to close down for some time will have serious financial and social consequences, not only for the university but for the whole community,” Dr Barnes said.

“Both the bushfire crisis and Covid-19 have clearly shown the value and necessity of having trained scientific experts providing advice to governments.”

“We need to keep them employed, as well as continuing to train the next generation of scientists.”

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