Unemployed Australians and workers looking to upskill in the wake of the coronavirus recession will be able to access university short courses at a large discounts and no up-front costs in 2021.
It comes as universities prepare to welcome students back to campus in larger numbers in semester one.
The Australian government will subsidise the cost of short courses in areas of high demand and enable domestic students to defer the cost of study through the HECS scheme to help people improve their employment prospects.
Australian National University economics professor Matthew Gray said in a recession people who lost their job or younger people leaving education found it harder to get a job.
"The longer you go without a job, the harder it is to get a job, partly because you lose confidence and your skills can atrophy. But, it also becomes a bit of a negative signal about you: employers tend to want to employ people who've not been unemployed," he said.
"Of course, in something like COVID, it's not your fault. It's not that you did anything, it's just that the economy has shut down.
"If you can't get a job, then investing in skills development and training is a very sensible thing to do."
The ANU will be offering 38 graduate certificates from February, of this 13 courses are available as Commonwealth-supported places. The subsidised short courses cover a range of subjects such as digital transformation, public health and linguistics.
The University of Canberra will be offering 10 graduate certificates and one undergraduate certificate with government-subsidised places with study beginning in February.
Pro vice-chancellor (Students, Partnerships and International) Professor Lawrence Pratchett said the courses opened up a new market of study.
"It provides access to a range of different areas that students couldn't access easily before. So everything from education and TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) through to IT, health research, sports analytics, midwifery, and so on.
"So it's a really big opportunity I think for the Canberra community to upskill in those sort of key areas that we know have significant market demand in the future."
A graduate certificate can be used as credit towards a master's degree, while the new award of undergraduate certificate could be used as a credit towards an undergraduate degree.
Australian Catholic University deputy provost Professor Meg Stuart said the new award provided an additional pathway into tertiary education.
"That sort of level of qualification hadn't been on offer before to undergraduate students and so across the sector we have seen a really high demand for those undergraduate certificates which were designed and offered by universities in response to COVID-19."
ACU will be offering 10 graduate certificates and four undergraduate certificates with Commonwealth-supported places. Most can be studied online, full-time over six months beginning on March 1.
The University of Canberra has invited all students who have been offered a place this year the chance to visit campus on Friday for the course advice day.
Professor Pratchett said the day was a big moment for the university as it would kick off the return of students to campus after it was largely shut down last year.
"We're a university that prides itself on giving hands-on experience and real professional development so having students back in the university, it will really help us to deliver on that promise."