The university sector has welcomed the federal government's pledge to guarantee 2020 funding levels even if enrolments drop as an "important first step", but 21,000 jobs are still likely to be lost in the industry in the next six months.
Universities have been begging for a bailout package from the government as the ongoing effects of coronavirus hit not only international enrolments, but also domestic student numbers.
Education Minister Dan Tehan announced on Sunday that universities would have their federal government funding guaranteed for the rest of 2020 based on current levels. Performance-based funding will also be guaranteed.
"This assurance signals the Government's confidence in the sector and its crucial role in national recovery and is an important first step," said Universities Australia chair Deborah Terry.
While the announcement had saved many jobs, 16 per cent of employees were still likely to be let go even with the guaranteed funding, Professor Terry said.
"We estimate a quarter of all jobs at Australian universities will go within the next six months - that's more than 21,000 livelihoods. Without guaranteed CGS and HELP funding that figure would have been even higher."
Revenues had declined between $3 billion and $4.6 billion in the sector at conservative estimates, she said.
Mr Tehan said the package was "putting a ballast into the university sector in that what they had planned their income to be, will now be the actual income they receive".
Tertiary and international education providers will also get regulatory fee relief so they can better support domestic and international students, as well as provide exemptions from loan fees under FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans.
The package also includes the development of short online courses to allow universities to open up a new revenue stream. Starting in May and lasting six months, potential students could pay for their studies under the HECS HELP scheme.
The providers will be granted fee relief so they can offer the short courses in areas where skills are in demand now and in future recovery phases.
"This plan will help Australians who have lost their job or are looking to retrain to use their time studying nursing, teaching, counselling, allied health or other areas considered national priorities," Mr Tehan said.
"To enable people rather than bingeing on Netflix to be able to binge on studying, to binge on looking at a teaching degree, binge on looking at a nursing degree, an allied health degree, areas where we need people."
- With AAP
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