Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended real term cuts to universities in last week's budget, saying he gave the higher education sector an additional billion dollars in research funding in the previous year's budget.
Mr Frydenberg said there were an additional 30,000 new university places as a result of measures taken throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think universities are critical to Australia's economic prosperity, to our cultural harmony and, of course, to a better society," Mr Frydenberg told Insiders on Sunday.
Universities in the ACT have warned their institutions will face more financial pain as federal funding is set to decline by 9.3 per cent over the next three years and international students are barred from entering Australian until mid-2022.
Vice chancellors have pleaded with the government to allow international students back, and will be making formal proposals for places to be added to the territory's cap on arrivals.
"We will look favourable at those proposals, but importantly they have to be ticked off by the Chief Medical Officer," Mr Frydenberg said.
He added that a budget assumption was that Australia could see a small number of international students come by the end of this year, and universities could also benefit from the new patent box initiative to ensure that biotech and medical companies work closer with universities, creating more jobs within the higher education sector.
Last week, Universities Australia's chief executive Catriona Jackson said the sector could not sustain these losses without serious damage to national productivity and the country's knowledge base.
Australian National University vice chancellor Brian Schmidt said it was easy to forget the importance of the research role of our universities.
"Decades of university research have been vital to the success of the Covid response so far; retaining and building this capacity will help us survive the next pandemic," Mr Schmidt said last week.
"There is no shortcut to expertise. We have to constantly grow and nurture it in our universities. New industries and ideas emerge from our campuses and graduates, and the economic spill-overs are large and important."
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