Australia Budget 2021: what the higher education sector is desperately seeking — money, of course, but much more
Promises, promises. Josh Frydenberg made a lot in last year’s budget, but did they stack up?
There were a few fails — JobMaker, women — but by getting the iron ore price wrong, the treasurer gained many billions for his coffers.But seven months later, many of Frydenberg’s signature splashes — wage subsidies and women’s economic security — have failed to have a big impact. And it’s unlikely many of the big assumptions underpinning that budget’s optimistic projections will play out.
The past 12 months have been brutal for higher education. Left to wither and die by a government which deliberately excluded public universities from JobKeeper, the sector lost 17,200 jobs and could losein revenue over the next three years. And international students — its financial backbone for years — are unlikely to return in numbers any time soon.
Tuesday’s federal budget is a key opportunity for the government to throw higher education a much-needed lifeline. So what, ideally, should it do?
What we know
In the flurry of strategic pre-budget drops, there has been only one real boost for higher education: a $53 million package for private colleges and vocational training centres. Although institutions got JobKeeper, they rely even more on international students
What's in the budget? Here are the key measures we already know about
The federal budget will have measures for retirees, single parents, and first home buyers. What about you?Pre-budget leaks are a well-established tradition, and this year has been no exception.
But Australian National University higher education expert Andrew Norton says the package is “probably not going to make a big difference” to those institutions, which have struggled since JobKeeper wound up and lack a strong pipeline of domestic student demand to turn to.
Meanwhile there’ve been no drops about universities.
More for R&D
One of the few goodies given to the sector in the last budget was a $1 billion research package for universities. That was very welcome but the National Tertiary Education Union thinks it isn’t enough.
National president Alison Barnes called the package a “sugar hit” and analysis from the University of Melbourne pointed to a $7.2 billion research and development funding shortfall.
Decade of budget deficits ahead as government spends billions to recover pandemic-hit economy
The Treasurer has declared Australia's economic engine is "roaring back to life" as he unveiled tens of billions in new spending in a budget that could be the Coalition's last before a federal election. The government is pitching its second pandemic budget as solely focused on Australia's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession.That will see a decade of deficits and debt that's set to peak at almost $1 trillion in 2025.In its bid to drive jobs growth, the government is targeting areas where there are skills shortages, like child and aged care."The economy is coming back.
Universities Australia also wants additional stabilisation funding on top of last year’s package, and an increase in long-term investment.
Support for international students
As long as international students are locked out, the sector will struggle. Many were promised a return to Australia last year, but Health Minister Greg Hunt has made announcements recently about keeping borders closed even after Australians are vaccinated. Many students stranded overseas arereturning to Australia.
So far state-based programs to fly international students home have stalled. The sector wants those programs to be adequately funded, and beefed up. They also want more visa flexibility for international students stuck overseas.
“It is time for a constructive national plan for the safe return of international students, bringing together the efforts of universities, state and territory governments with the Commonwealth,” Universities Australia boss Catriona Jackson said.
Federal budget 2021 receives lukewarm reaction from Queensland tourism, social services sectors
The federal budget offers big promises of a strong economic recovery from COVID-19, but receives a lukewarm reaction from key Queensland industries hit hard by the pandemic. Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) chief executive Daniel Gschwind said it was "hard to find the highlights" in the budget for the state's struggling tourism providers."The tourism industry has certainly been the first into the crisis and will probably the last out of this crisis," Mr Gschwind said."I think a greater acknowledgement of a sector that is so important to the economy would have been welcome.
Ultimately the best way to bring those students back would be to loosen border restrictions, which remains politically unpopular.
Funding, funding, funding
Everything comes back to universities needing more funding. Barnes says in the decade before the pandemic, the sector received $10 billion less in government contributions than was projected back in 2010. Norton says that at the last budget, funding for the Commonwealth Grants Scheme — through which the government subsidises tuition for domestic students — was stagnant over the forward estimates.
Meanwhile, the effect of the government’s new funding arrangements, where students are essentially charged more for arts degrees, is that the Commonwealth pays aof university course costs. It’s essentially a divestment in the higher education sector by stealth.
The National Tertiary Education Union wants an investment in the sector worth 1% of GDP. Barnes says this would deal with many of the deeper structural problems affecting universities, including the rise of insecure work, which has eroded both employment and teaching standards.
Loans for short courses
Universities Australia wants a new HECS-style scheme for short courses, which would allow students to more easily get new skills and “micro-credentials” in areas such as digital health and bushfire preparedness.
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Victoria's post-pandemic recovery 'on track' but budget deficit forecast to be $11.6 billion .
A better-than-expected deficit of $11.6 billion is forecast for next year in the Victorian budget as the state economy bounces back after last year's lockdown.The final deficit for the COVID-hit 2020–21 budget is nearly $6 billion less than forecast at $17.4 billion.