Australian government moves again to exclude universities from bailout

Sector singled out as Canberra makes changes on the fly to its JobKeeper employment subsidy scheme

May 3, 2020
Person moving goalposts
Source: Getty
Moving the goalposts: Australia’s universities have perceived the government’s changes to qualification for its JobKeeper scheme as evasive

Australia’s government has made a third change to its JobKeeper employment subsidy programme, in yet another ploy to exclude universities from the A$130 billion (£67 billion) pandemic stimulus measure.

In a modification that only applies to universities, the government has altered the JobKeeper “turnover test period” during which organisations must demonstrate that they face a sufficiently large hit to their revenue to qualify for JobKeeper payments.  

Other types of organisations can calculate their revenue losses over a three-monthly period or any calendar month between April and September. However, under newly amended rules revealed on 1 May, universities must now measure their losses over the first six months of 2020.

The change appears to be aimed squarely at the University of Sydney, which is thought to be the only university that had not had its JobKeeper eligibility hopes dashed by previously announced tweaks to the scheme. It had launched an application for JobKeeper payments based on the timing of its international students’ tuition fee payments.

Sydney has estimated that the coronavirus will cost it A$470 million this year. A successful JobKeeper application could have delivered it a A$750 weekly payment for every permanent and long-term casual staff member, recouping as much as A$140 million of its losses.

As recently as 29 April it confirmed that it was proceeding with its JobKeeper application, having determined that it met the criteria. “We…have an obligation to our staff and students to seek support where it is available,” a spokeswoman said at the time. “It would be a tremendous investment in the university’s ability to recover quickly and to contribute to the broader economy.”

The latest change appears to rule this out. “This is obviously very disappointing news but we’re hopeful the government will continue to work with us to protect our world class education and research during this unprecedented crisis,” Sydney’s spokeswoman said on the weekend.

The new amendment also changes the rules to ensure that universities include government funding in the revenue test – a modification the government flagged in late April, quashing at least two other universities’ hopes of qualifying. That development followed the government’s exclusion of universities from a lower revenue loss test applied to charities.

Sydney deputy vice-chancellor Lisa Jackson Pulver told the ABC’s Q&A programme that universities were being treated differently from other non-profit organisations. Education minister Dan Tehan told the programme that “universities should face the same requirements as large businesses”.

But Innovative Research Universities executive director Conor King said the latest change meant universities now faced tougher eligibility requirements than even the biggest Australian businesses. He described the new rule modification as an “extra nasty twist of the knife”.

“The key question remains: does government want functioning universities from 2021?”

The sector has estimated that the jobs of 21,000 university staff have been endangered by coronavirus-related losses.

Australian National University policy analyst Andrew Norton said the government “would have saved itself multiple rounds of negative media, and saved the higher education sector much false hope and wasted effort, if it had just said at the start that it did not want universities to receive JobKeeper”.

Times Higher Education sought comment from Mr Tehan’s office.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Australian bailout again excludes universities

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Reader's comments (2)

This is public policy vandalism at its worst. Australian universities over-reliant on international students because of government cut-backs over the years. The Australian government closes its borders preventing the sector from recruiting int students and now the final blow. One thing thing that must change however, is the unis need to ween themselves off international consultants and international "pathway" providers who play no constructive role. Direct recruitment from now on!
Universities are registered as charities and have paid no tax at all of their existence. It’s impossible to define universities as a business because they have never operated like one. Business have paid taxes and employed people who have paid taxes and contributed to society. Universities are supposed to have contributed to society but these universities with multimillion dollar vice chancellor salaries only lined up their pockets. The Larger community did not benefit anything from these universities the local students who studied there were funded by the government. You should look at the real estate development and acquisition the universities have engaged in the last 10 years and then one wonders whether they impart education or are real estate developers. Even then the university researchers are additionally funded by the govt. an entity cannot not pay tax throughout their lives and then claim taxpayer handout also but even so that’s what exactly happening as they have not been completely turned down. One must wonder where is that university surplus cash from their supposed fraudulent export education from international student? The truth is their so called education export revenue is actually negative. The universities are running numbers and been fudging their books ever since so there is negative export revenue. The universities need to fail and reduce their operations by 80 per cent and that’s what the govt policy is exhorting them to do. Post covid Australian universities will be for Australians only and no international student will be admitted and required to be admitted. International students stranded here should go back home as soon as possible.

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