IDP chief executive Andrew Barkla (Image: Supplied)

As they beg for government assistance, Australia’s public universities are sitting on a $1.6 billion windfall courtesy of their collective 40% shareholding in listed education services provider IDP Education Limited.

IDP's share price has surged since 2015, having risen from its listing price of $3.40 to $14 this month, giving it a market capitalisation of $3.9 billion.

The little-known company burst out of the shadows last week when boss Andrew Barkla was revealed had drawn the largest annual salary of any chief executive in the country for the 2018-19 financial year: $38 million.