New research fund will not plug $7 billion hole in university budgets, union warns – The Canberra Times

news, education, nteu, university funding reforms, universities australia, covid-19, university research fund, $1 billion university research fund, dan tehan, cathy day

A billion-dollar research fund will not plug the gaping hole in university budgets caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the union for the sector has warned. The Morrison government unveiled $1 billion of new funding in Tuesday night’s budget for university research, after the sector warned the fall in international student fees caused by COVID-19 would mean thousands of researchers would be shown the door. Of the 21,000 university jobs at risk due to the pandemic, it is estimated around 7000 are in research. Independent expert Professor Andrew Norton has estimated around $3.3 billion of university research and development was risk because of the pandemic. Universities Australia chair Professor Deborah Terry said the new fund would “stabilise university research capacity and jobs”. “[It] shows that government has heard the alarm bells,” Professor Terry said. “This deals with the very serious short-term issues caused by COVID-19.” The Australian National University said the fund would mean it could reduce the number of jobs cuts. It had been planning on cutting 215 staff, on top of the 250 staff who took voluntary redundancies. However National Tertiary Education Union ACT branch secretary Cathy Day said not all universities would benefit as much as ANU expected to. “It’s guided by previous research funding and ANU is a research-intensive university so it’s likely to get more funds,” Dr Day said. Dr Day said she was disappointed with the budget as it did not contain any measures to fund universities “fairly”. “The government has gone out of its way to withdraw funding and withhold funding from universities,” Dr Day said. “Now with a $7.3 billion hole in our budgets, they’re giving us back $1 billion. It isn’t going to give work to casual or sessional academics and the vast majority of people teaching in universities are casual.” It comes as laws which will push up the cost of humanities courses while “job-ready” qualifications like nursing and engineering will become cheaper have passed parliament. The lower house signed off on Thursday on amendments made in the Senate, securing the passage of the bill. Senate support was assured on Wednesday when Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff backed the government, despite still holding concerns about its fairness and the lack of a long-term funding plan for universities. Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek expressed the opposition’s disappointment. “Last year’s slogan was ‘Back in black’ – this year’s song is ‘Dirty deals done dirt cheap’,” she said. But Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson welcomed changes to the bill that strengthened protections for students who failed units due to circumstances beyond their control. “It is important that we do not compound disadvantage,” Ms Jackson said. Ms Jackson remained concerned that the changes would hurt students financially. “From the day the package was announced, we have been expressing concern about additional financial pressure on students. That concern remains,” she said. READ MORE: Dr Day said the union remained “vehemently opposed” to the funding reforms. “It’s very disappointing that senators are willing to throw the rest of the country under the bus to prop up their electoral prospects at the next election,” she said, referring to a deal struck by Centre Alliance to support the bill in exchange for more Commonwealth-supported places at South Australian universities. – with AAP

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