An estimated 10,000 university places will go unfunded this year because of Federal Government budget cuts, according to Universities Australia.
Just before Christmas, the Coalition announced a freeze on funding for the Commonwealth Grants Scheme, which covers the cost of higher education for students.
That will force universities to find “bandaid” solutions to cover their costs this year, Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said.
“Universities will be moving resources around, they’ll be looking at other programs they can perhaps close down, campuses they can close … anything they can do to hold on for 12 months,” she said.
“There will be adverse consequences.”
The peak body for universities has calculated the impact of the freeze, which will see funding kept at 2017 levels for the next two years.
With no indexation, the freeze could amount to a 1.5 per cent fall in funding in real terms in 2018.
Universities have committed resources to teaching students already at the university, so the impact would fall on new students, which make up about 35 per cent of places at public universities.
Ms Robinson said that equates to a shortfall in funding equivalent to 10,000 places.
“This is a very conservative number that assumes no growth,” she said.
“This will be felt in different ways by different institutions and in different communities, but … it is typically the smaller universities in regional areas that will be the ones that are the most hard hit.
“It tends to be the smaller, younger institutions that have very few alternative funding sources to be able to draw on.”
Announcement came after university budgets planned
The Federal Government has previously said overall funding for universities will still increase and that there is room for universities to cut administration costs.
The funding freeze was part of a $2.2 billion budget saving measure announced at the mid-year budget update in December.
“Universities have really only had 13 days to deal with this,” Ms Robinson said.
“The announcement was made on the 18th of December for a scheme that was to be introduced by universities on the 1st of January.
“Most universities have made commitments on offers [and] their budget planning occurred in October. Every university will be looking at really what is a year of bandaid approaches to deal with this.”
But the Regional Universities Network has pointed to several programs that are now under threat because of the funding shortfall.
Some of the cuts the network has identified include:
- Central Queensland University will no longer cover the cost of hospital placements for its nursing students
- No new places in health courses at the Port Macquarie campus of Charles Sturt University
- Southern Cross University will not enrol any students in their new health courses at Coffs Harbour, despite having funding for new facilities at the campus