‘One in five’ university jobs lost as COVID-19 border rules continue to bite

Part way into this semester, Monash University tutor Kate Clark and a colleague were told one of them had to go. If no-one volunteered, a coin toss would decide.

Ms Clark had even turned down other work for her job at the university.

“It’s really frustrating to get a job that you really love and you’re really passionate about and then be told overnight, totally out of the blue, that you no longer have a job, through no fault of your own,” Ms Clark said.

Her friend volunteered to leave, sparing the coin toss and Ms Clark’s job.

Now, after six years of precarious, casual work as a university tutor specialising in virtual reality technology, Ms Clark is prepared to risk her job to speak out about insecure employment in universities.

Ms Clark was still working at the university this semester but said she has had enough of the long-term casual work and was calling it out.

A portrait photo of Kate Clark, smiling, in front of a white background.
Kate Clark said she saw similar things happening to friends and colleagues.(

Supplied: Kate Clark


As many as three quarters of university staff can be casuals or on short-term contracts.

“I see this sort of thing happening in a really widespread manner across the university,” she said.

“This is affecting my colleagues, my friends, and the reason I have a job is because one of the other tutors doesn’t, which also makes me feel incredibly guilty.”

The ABC has verified Ms Clark’s account.

In a statement, Monash University said it had moved 500 casual and sessional workers into more secure employment during 2020.

“Monash University employs all staff (including casual staff) on terms consistent with what has been agreed with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and set out under the Monash University Enterprise Agreement,” a spokesperson said.

“Monash University continues to explore ways to address insecure work.”

One in five education jobs gone in a year

A report to be released today by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work uses ABS labour force data to show 40,000 tertiary education jobs — one in five positions — have been lost in the 12 months to May 2021.

The report estimates 35,000 of the job losses were at public universities with a significant number of TAFE staff also losing work.

“The job losses in the tertiary sector have been worse this year than any other non-agricultural sector in the economy,” said report author Jim Stanford.

“We’ve seen the disappearance this year of almost one in five jobs in higher education and that’s just a terrible blow for these institutions and the services they provide.”

The Australia Institute, which set up the Centre for Future Work, is a progressive think tank.

Mr Stanford, the director of the centre, said local universities missing out on JobKeeper while large foreign institutions like New York University qualified compounded the pain.

Young people are seen in the distance on the Monash University campus.
The report estimates 35,000 of the job losses were at public universities.(

Shutterstock: EQRoy


He called on the federal government to dig deep and fund a $3.75 billion rescue package.

“If the universities received $3.75 billion in the year it would allow them to hire back the 40,000 people that they’ve let go,” Mr Stanford said.

“We know that we’re going to need these people, we’re going to need higher education, international students are going to come back at some point, we’re not sure when.”

Job cuts ‘compromising learning and research’

In a statement, Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said universities had received “significant” support since the pandemic began and would continue to be supported.

“The majority of universities entered this calendar year in a relatively strong financial position, with 25 reporting surpluses in 2020 and significant assets and investments reported,” Mr Tudge said.

“Universities were not prohibited from accessing JobKeeper, but given their relatively strong financial position, none qualified.”

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) president Alison Barnes noted the fear caused by the job cuts on campuses and said she worried about the quality of education students will receive in the future.

“I think what really concerns me is obviously the impact on staff who’ve lost their work, but the knock-on effect on future generations in terms of the compromising of learning and research across our universities,” Dr Barnes said.

Dr Barnes also wanted to see a rescue package, but said university management had to make retaining staff a higher priority and scale back the use of casuals.

“We really need vice chancellors and university management to step up and ensure that their institutions are able to perform their core functions of teaching and research, and intrinsic to that is ensuring that you don’t use this pandemic to further casualise your workforce,” she said.

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