(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In early April, with the pandemic raging, Australia's universities desperately needed a lifeline. International students had stopped coming, wiping away billions in revenue. Up to 30,000 jobs were set to go. And while the sector had been hit by the pandemic earlier and with greater ferocity than any other, the federal government continued to leave universities out in the cold.

So, against a backdrop of existential crisis, the National Tertiary Education Union's (NTEU) leaders sat down with vice-chancellors representing the Australian Higher Education Industry Association (AHEIA) and came up with a plan.

Under the National Job Protection Framework, enterprise agreements would be temporarily varied. Wage cuts of up to 15% were on the cards. In return, the union hoped to save 12,000 jobs.