In the wake of expected heavy university staff cuts, calls have been made for senior executives at all universities to take significant pay cuts.
It is anticipated that up to 25,000 higher education employees are in the firing line as the funding normally drawn from overseas students grinds to a halt.
Honorary Professor at Macquarie University Margaret Sims, a long-time advocate for higher education staff, said university executives should demonstrate solidarity with their staff by volunteering to take cuts and use that money to support the lower paid staff who were losing their income.
"Some of the executives are earning up to $900,000 a year so there is room for generosity", Professor Sims said.
She pointed out that Melbourne's LaTrobe University and the University of NSW had shown good leadership in this area with news that senior executives agreeing to take 20% pay cuts.
"That's a great initiative by these unis, but it is far from universal. We have a situation where casual staff and lower-paid workers are struggling and stand to lose their homes and provide for themselves at the most basic level," she said.
"Pay increases for staff negotiated at the last enterprise bargaining round are not going to be passed on to staff at this point. You can certainly see the logic in delaying pay rises, but at the same time, it would be good to see the pain shared.
"The impact on life between someone taking a pay cut on $900,000 a year and a casual earning $14,000 a year is very significant."
"It's also really important that the government acknowledges the realities of the higher education sector and redefines the criteria for the JobKeeper allowance," Prof Sims said.
Some of the executives are earning up to $900,000 a year so there is room for generosityProfessor Margaret Sims
"The government allowance presently excludes university-employed casuals because they have never had 12 months of regular employment. That's not the way higher education employment operates. It never has. Employment is more piecemeal and uncertain," she said.
Universities are in a parlous state. Their potential sources of funding are being decimated. Not only are COVID-19 travel restrictions preventing foreign students from attending universities, but with domestic students compelled to study online there are concerns about their response to studying in this manner and a possible hike in the drop-out rate.
"The reduction of overseas students will have a flow-on effect for many years," Prof Sims said.
"No first year students this year, means no second year students next year and so on. Four and five year courses will be severely impacted."
Students currently on a gap year are losing their jobs as businesses shut down and part-time work disappears, and therefore their potential savings to assist them attending university next year are disappearing.
But the University of Canberra said last week that it expected a surge in demand for short courses.
Parents who are losing income are also less capable of supporting their children.
Education minister, Dan Tehan, announced the federal government will provide an $18 billion support package for university students, but this will do little to mitigate job losses across the higher education sector.