University of Sydney
University of Sydney has asked staff to 'suggest' how to cut up to 30% of jobs in some faculties.

Staff at New York University’s (NYU) Sydney campus have been paid JobKeeper as local universities missed out, leading to thousands of job cuts.

University Australia estimates universities will lose between $3.1 billion and $4.8 billion this year alone and 21,000 university jobs are at risk. The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has said more than 11,000 jobs have been lost. 

Meanwhile, independent higher education providers have been granted the big bucks to keep 5038 staff on site.

Which unis benefit?

NYU: Its sandstone campus sits in Sydney’s upmarket suburb of The Rocks. Like most public universities in Australia, it’s a registered charity. Its 2019 financial report still hasn’t been submitted to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) although its 2018 financials show it raked in $2.6 million. Of its $5.7 million in expenses, 36% was spent on staff.

Notre Dame University: Another private sandstone Sydney university — this one Catholic — it employs more than 800 full-time and 1700 sessional staff.

Bond University: About 1000 staff at the private Gold Coast uni will keep their positions through the subsidy. About 38% of its students are international.

Torrens University: The Adelaide-based faculty is also permitted to access the scheme, although it said in May it wouldn’t.

University of Divinity: The religious institution in Melbourne’s upmarket suburb of Kew also said it would not seek JobKeeeper.

The reprieve for private universities is somewhat similar to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s controversial Catholic school slush fund. Independent religious schools were also offered a $3 billion cash advance to restart face-to-face classes in June.

How are Australian universities doing? 

The Group of Eight (G8) universities are not doing well with mass job cuts across the board. Official university numbers are just the tip of the iceberg; the NTEU gathered data on casual and fixed-term contract positions. It found more than 2000 G8 gigs have gone down the drain. 

University of Melbourne: 450 positions have been cut, and at least 262 casuals confirmed to the NTEU they no longer have a job. 

Australian National University: An extra 215 jobs have been canned this week; a total of 465 since the pandemic started.

University of Sydney: It has asked staff to “suggest” how to cut up to 30% of jobs in some faculties. If implemented, 3000 jobs could go, making it the largest number of redundancies at any university so far.

University of Queensland: Casual staff teaching English as a second language have lost weeks of work, estimated to equal about 66 redundancies. 

University of Western Australia: Redundancies are not yet known but staff have been told to take unpaid leave and pay cuts, estimated to total a salary cut of 10%

Monash University: 277 continuing roles will be slashed by the end of the year — even after senior management took a 20% pay cut. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. The NTEU calculates another 238 fixed-term contract roles and 239 casual roles have been lost, totalling 754 roles. 

University of NSW: 493 roles have been lost, including 256 forced redundancies announced this week.  

Why don’t they get cash?

JobKeeper is available to organisations which have lost between 30 and 50% (depending on size) during a given month. This is dropped to 15% for not-for-profits. 

Despite many universities being registered charities, they must meet the higher revenue threshold of 30-50%. New rules also mean they have to count their Commonwealth grants scheme funding towards their revenue — something other charities don’t have to do — and calculate their revenue losses across six months instead of one. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told ABC comparing NYU with other universities was comparing apples and oranges.

“Australian universities are receiving $18 billion in funding for domestic students … That is not support that’s available to foreign universities that may have a domestic campus. So it’s a different situation,” he said.

NTEU’s president Dr Alison Barnes told Crikey the government deliberately excluded public Australian universities from the scheme. 

“The Morrison government changed the rules three times to prevent these universities from accessing JobKeeper, yet four private universities in Australia and even the Sydney campus of NYU have been able to access JobKeeper,” she said. 

“The higher education sector is being decimated daily.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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