Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas has announced funding to help universities hit by the coronavirus. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS

Health

Vic offers unis $350m, calls out Canberra

2020-05-20 15:28:17

Hard-hit Victorian universities will be thrown a $350 million financial lifeline by the state government to recover from the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

In addition, the government will offer universities payroll tax deferrals of around $110 million, Higher Education Minister Gayle Tierney and Treasurer Tim Pallas say.

The measures are aimed mainly at mitigating the effect of reduced international student enrolments, and supporting universities with capital works, applied research and research partnerships.

But if universities are to retain all staff and play a key role in Victoria’s economic recovery, Mr Pallas says it must be with federal government intervention.

“We know that coronavirus has kicked this sector. We also know that (the lack of) revenue from international students has impacted on universities,” Mr Pallas said on Tuesday.

“As a consequence, it is important that as a government, we assist them. We also know that the Commonwealth has refused to come to the party.”

Mr Pallas called out the federal government for withholding the JobKeeper payments from university staff and urged it to think of further responses, such as rolling out low interest loans or lifting domestic placement numbers.

The federal government has faced pressure to expand its JobKeeper scheme, from which universities were excluded, after changes were made to the subsidy.

Universities have to demonstrate a 50 per cent drop in turnover between January and June compared with the same period last year.

Ms Tierney said they would expect the federal government to do more, with a further funding boost for the university sector to help it keep running.

“Today’s announcements are to help reduce the number of job losses; it is not the solution,” she said.

“The fact of the matter is that the federal government needs to step up for it to have a significant impact in this area.”

Universities Australia praised the state government for the announcement while appealing to the federal government to reinvest in universities at a national level.

The peak body of the sector recently released modelling estimating the revenue hit to Australian universities would be between $3 billion and $4.6 billion in the next six months.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, international education contributed $37.6 billion to the national economy in the 2018/19 financial year and employs 240,000 people.

The funding announcement is the latest step in Victoria’s bid boost the economy after $2.7 billion was pledged on Monday for building works, including $55 million for maintenance at TAFE centres.