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Question: Adelaide Universities

25 August 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Premier on the topic of Adelaide universities.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Earlier this year, Universities Australia estimated that the 2020 job losses at our universities are sitting at more than 17,000 people. They have been excluded from JobKeeper, there has been no additional funding from the federal government and universities are facing increasing financial pressure due to the collapse of the international student market.

As recently as yesterday, the University of Adelaide announced its plan to proceed with the merger of faculties, reducing the number of faculties from five to three, with a separate decision to cut up to 130 administration staff and potentially 70 academic staff positions expected to be made soon. My question to the Treasurer therefore is: given the financial pressures faced by our state's universities, and the significant role they play in our economy, will the Marshall government commit to a support package for the university sector in our state?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): No. This issue has been discussed for most of the last 15 to 18 months. The substantial funder of universities is, of course, the federal government, which has the responsibility. The state government has provided some assistance to students. A support package last year was extended for, in particular, international students who were struggling, and that scheme was negotiated with the universities and with a number of other stakeholders to try to provide emergency assistance for individual students.

In relation to whether the state government will use state taxpayer funding to make grants to our three universities, the answer to that question has been no. The funding decisions for the universities remain with the commonwealth government. The remaining important issue on which the state government has been as active as it can be, given that some of the major decisions are in the hands, again, of the federal government, has been in relation to trying to encourage international students back into our university sector. The Premier in particular has been very active in terms of discussions.

There have been various public statements in relation to pilot programs in South Australia, supported after negotiation with the university sector in South Australia, to see whether there might be some capacity to do so. Of course, the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 in New South Wales and Victoria has meant that progress—progress being an understatement—has slowed significantly in relation to being able to meet that particular policy objective of trying to get international students back into South Australia. It nevertheless remains an active part of discussions between the Premier and the federal government as to when we might be able to start encouraging international students back in, because that is one of the key drivers in terms of the financial viability of our three universities in South Australia.