The University of Wollongong has planned for a lack of international students but news that borders may not open until mid-2022 poses serious challenges.
UOW has said publicly since April 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant financial impact on the university and has brought far-reaching and irreversible changes to the global higher education sector.
"When preparing its budgets for 2020 and 2021 and considering its longer-term financial recovery, UOW has assumed international borders would remain closed, or that the movement of international students would remain restricted, or at least not return to pre-COVID levels, up to 2022," a spokesman said.
"The updates provided to staff on UOW's financial recovery have clearly indicated the expectations of substantially reduced international student revenue throughout this period.
"This has also been one of the key assumption underpinning the cost constraints introduced by UOW since early in the pandemic and a contributing factor in asking staff to make financial sacrifices to help restore the university to a sustainable position.
"If the borders were to remain closed throughout 2022, this will further impact on the university's forward estimates and adversely impact its financial recovery."
Despite the financial impact, the health and safety of students and staff remains UOW's priority.
"It is impossible to say with certainty how many international students will return when travel restrictions are eased, but the university remains ready and eager to work with the state and federal governments to implement initiatives that would enable international students to return safely," the spokesman said.
Meantime Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said federal government budget assumptions that Australia's borders will remain shut until mid-2022 posed very serious challenges for the nation's universities.
"Governments across all jurisdictions need to come together with universities to develop a robust plan for the safe return of international students. The plan would mean the safe quarantine of students from low-risk countries," she said.
Read more: $40m UOW operating loss better than expected
"The sector took a $1.8 billion revenue hit last year. Universities Australia estimates another $2 billion will be lost this year - against 2019 actual operating revenue.
"With borders shut until mid-2022 the picture for universities will get worse - with significant flow-on effects for the nation's research capacity and jobs, inside and outside universities.
"Australia's university sector cannot sustain these losses without serious damage to national productivity and the country's knowledge base."
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