In an extraordinary update to the broader Canberra community, the Australian National University (ANU) Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt has laid bare just how difficult a challenge our local universities are facing. 

Fires, smoke, hail and now the devastating coronavirus crisis have increased costs and massively reduced revenue for the ANU.  

The figures are stark; a $225 million gap in the budget this year and even after difficult mitigation measures there remains a $100 million black hole. 

More concerning, and where we must see action from the Federal Education Minister, is the ANU is forecasting a budget deficit of $150 million in 2021, with savings required of this magnitude likely in 2022 and beyond.  

This is well beyond the immediate crisis and affects not only teaching but important research and development capacity.

Across the country there is pressure on higher education, and we will be seeing job losses locally without intervention. Instead of action, the Government continues to turn its back on higher education staff. 

In the south of Canberra, in the Bean electorate alone 1,100 people work in this industry and across the whole of the Territory the sector has some 6000 workers.

The ANU is one of the largest employers in the ACT, with a workforce not only made up of lecturers and research staff but includes accountants, café workers, tutors, lab technicians, cleaners, tradespeople, maintenance and administration staff.    

Frankly I can't understand why the Government is not stepping up and providing support. As highlighted by Labor, they keep changing the rules so that universities can't apply for JobKeeper or can't receive JobKeeper for their staff. This is wrong!

We know just how important our higher education sector is to those who work directly in it, those that rely on the income it generates, those that commercialise its world leading research and those that enjoy its contribution to our local culture.  

If the Morrison Government, and Senator Seselja, are serious about jobs now and into the future then they need to back our higher education campuses, back research and development, and back innovation by urgently supporting our local universities. Not only here in the ACT but across the whole sector.