LA TROBE University staff say there needs to be more support for the university sector as many institutions face financial hardship and job cuts because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
La Trobe last week rejected reports it was going broke, but admitted it was facing a significant financial shortfall.
Vice-Chancellor John Dewar already flagged there could be voluntary redundancies and up to 800 jobs cut, as the institution was facing a shortfall of between $33 million and $63 million in 2020, and between $80 million and $115 million in 2021.
Professor Pamela Snow, from the School of Education at La Trobe's Bendigo campus, said the issues at La Trobe were reflected across the entire university sector.
"Federal governments of both persuasions have created conditions in which universities have had to be very dependent on international students," Professor Snow said. "That is not unique to this government.
"In the short term, measures are needed to prevent job losses. Whether that's in the form of loans or changes to Commonwealth-supported funding, I'm sure there are a number of options that the Vice-Chancellors committee is canvassing with the federal government.
"At the end of the day, it comes down to financial support."
Virginia Mansel Lees, a social work academic at La Trobe's Albury-Wodonga campus, said the university sector had focused heavily on international students because of the lack of federal government funding.
She said the casualisation of the university workforce was also an issue.
"Staff at universities are the glue that holds and binds everything together," she said. "It's really distressing that the university sector is highly casualised.
"I know there are some staff who have been employed casually in the same job for 20 or 30 years. It's so unfair."
Ms Mansel Lees said the federal government needed include universities in the JobKeeper program.
"It's crucial," she said. "The government has changed the rules three times to make sure university staff were ineligible.
"There were a whole range of people who could have benefited from that. They have penalised an industry and it doesn't make sense."
Ms Mansel Lees, who is also the National Tertiary Education Union La Trobe branch president, said the Jobs Protection Framework could also help.
Professor Dewar said the framework could save the university $30 million in 2020 - the financial equivalent of 200 jobs.
The framework was rejected at an NTEU La Trobe branch meeting last month. The NTEU has taken the framework to all union members at La Trobe for a ballot vote. It will then be put to all La Trobe staff members.
Dr Julie Rudner, a senior planning lecture at La Trobe's Bendigo campus, said it appeared the university was dealing with staff in good faith.
"La Trobe is being much more open about its finances than other universities, and there are a number of checks and balances to ensure that any change to negotiated agreements is temporary," she said.
"However, I have concerns about what it means for workers' rights when it comes time for re-negotiating the agreements."
Dr Rudner said she was concerned what job cuts could mean for regional campuses.
"The higher education sector will be a significant part of our economic recovery, but it cannot play its role effectively without appropriate support," she said.
Professor Snow said La Trobe had shown it was committed to regional campuses.
"The regions are always more vulnerable in the higher education sector," she said. "But I think the Vice-Chancellor is very strong in his commitment to regional campuses.
"La Trobe is a large provider in professions like nursing and education, which are really the back-bones of rural and regional communities.
"They're going to be incredibly important for the community going forward."
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