COVID-19 takes 500 jobs away from NSW University and undermines Australian education

Jul 16, 2020

By SBS Australia 

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) will cut 493 jobs and merge faculties due to the drop in enrollment of international students, the exclusion of most universities in the JobKeeper grant program and a change in government financing plans following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of the crisis has motivated job cuts and the merger of faculties have been taken as measures to address a $ 370 million hole in next year's UNSW budget.

Losses from these jobs represent about 7.5% of full-time university staff. UNSW also has 115 fewer casual employees than in January this year, before the coronavirus crisis.


  • UNSW will cut 493 jobs, according to a closed-door meeting.
  • The measure is taken because of the drop in enrollment of international students, the exclusion of most universities from the JobKeeper grant program and a change in government funding plans.
  • Some 600 layoffs have been announced at various Australian universities.


On Wednesday afternoon, UNSW Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs told his employees, in a closed-door meeting, that the university is currently facing a $ 370 million financial deficit in 2021, which can be reduced to $ 75 million with reducing costs and decreasing reserves, but will still have to cut its workforce by 493 full-time positions.

UNSW will be restructured into six faculties, combining the faculty of environmental construction, art and design with those of arts and social sciences. The university will also select its leaders, while the posts of two deans and two vice presidents will be eliminated, according to the Thhe Guardian Australia newspaper.

"This is a painful but inevitable reality under current circumstances," Jacobs said, adding that "to minimize the need for mandatory job loss, a voluntary layoff program will be offered, which will begin immediately."

Jacobs noted that while a transition fund exists to soften the blow of course funding shifts during 2021-23, the university "must prepare for the long-term impacts."


Photo taken on Oct. 3, 2017, shows students attending a Japanese language class at the University of Melbourne.  (Kyodo) == Kyodo
Photo taken on Oct. 3, 2017, shows students attending a Japanese language class at the University of Melbourne. (Kyodo) == Kyodo

Cuts at other universities

The portal of The World Universities Ranking published in the middle of last month in several Australian universities had asked for cuts or freezes of salaries, which were rejected, while another was preparing the elimination of one hundred jobs. 

The University of Wollongong had asked its employees to reconsider the wage freeze, after nearly two-thirds of those surveyed opposed the proposed pay cuts; while at the University of Tasmania (UTas) he has endorsed Vice Chancellor Rufus Black's plan in favor of giving up a scheduled salary increase and deferring further salary increases.

On the other hand, the University of Southern Cross will seek the agreement of the staff to postpone salary increases and cut work hours, although it seems inevitable that Charles Sturt University (CSU), cut more than one hundred jobs and the interruption of more than 600 subjects because the pandemic has exacerbated an expected budget deficit. "

After learning of the UNSW announcement, the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents non-academic staff, expressed outrage at the cuts. His deputy NSW secretary Troy Wright said "Australia's higher education sector is in a dangerous situation - we need staff at our universities now, and then we need a fundamental rethink of the higher education system."

The National Tertiary Education Union blamed the government's failure to extend JobKeeper to the university sector for the loss of jobs. 

International students
International students provided $ 40 billion of income to Australia last year.

Political decisions regarding COVID-19

Although closing international borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is the main reason for the measure, UNSW also blamed the Scott Morrison government for the "exclusion of workers" in the Jobkeeper program, as well as the reform not legislated for higher education.

Australian universities face a $ 16 billion black hole caused by COVID-19 due to a massive decline in the number of international students.

Australian universities operate with a business model to the point that they have become the fourth largest export sector after coal, iron and gas. In the past fiscal year alone, education contributed some $ 36 billion to the national economy. 

Last April, Education Minister Dan Tehan announced a support package that included a $ 18 billion guarantee of projected college funding and $ 100 million of tuition fee relief for the sector.

Then, the universities welcomed the package as a first step to help them in the crisis, but warned that it would not be enough to avoid the reduction of some 21,000 jobs in the next six months in the third export sector, which is the most important of Australia, after coal, iron and gas.

So Labor spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the government "seems determined to do nothing as universities suffer heavy job losses and campus closings."

Last June, Tehan announced a series of changes to the university financing scheme, which have not yet been approved, in order to encourage careers in professions essential for the revival of the economy through reductions in enrollment, which contrast with the rise of other humanities careers.
For the vice chancellor of the UNSW, Ian Jacobs, a decrease in contributions from both government and students to science and engineering degrees would leave "a burden of about $ 5,000 per student per year that universities would have to absorb" .

Jacobs said government funding as a proportion of university budgets had dropped from 95% in the 1970s to around 35% today, prompting the sector to seek other funding opportunities, including attracting international students. .

But the UNSW vice chancellor added in that email sent to staff last June that: "If per-student funding declines while limiting government funding for research, the quality of university education and research in Australia will be in danger. "

The post about “COVID-19 takes 500 jobs away from NSW University and undermines Australian education" first appeared on the SBS Australia website.


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