And so we have another turn in the twists and turns of universities and JobKeeper.
The universities listed on Table B of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 – Bond, Notre Dame, Divinity and Torrens – will be exempted from one of the three rule changes designed to prevent universities getting JobKeeper.
They are still not counted as charities to get the lower 15 per cent decline in turnover threshold (not that Torrens is one anyway). They still have to count government grants in their revenue base. However, their revenue loss can be calculated over the month or quarter that applies to most enterprises, rather than the six months that applies to Table A universities.
In practice, I think this change is irrelevant to Notre Dame. In 2018, only 2 per cent of their revenue came from international students. Another 10 per cent came from up-front payments from domestic students. With their Commonwealth Grant Scheme and HELP funding guaranteed, there is a very low likelihood that Notre Dame will have the required 30 per cent decline in revenue.
In 2018, 16 per cent of the full-time equivalent students at the University of Divinity were internationals. Perhaps there are some timing issues about when they pay their fees that might help Divinity qualify for JobKeeper. With total staff costs of $2.3 million in 2018, if they do qualify it is not going to cost Treasury much.
Bond and Torrens are in a different situation, with 48 per cent and 52 respectively of their full-time equivalent students being from overseas. Bond spent $123 million on salaries in 2018. I could not quickly find Torrens financial information.
It is very likely that Bond and Torrens will qualify for JobKeeper payments.
According to a story in the AFR, ‘a spokesperson for the Department of Education said the affected institutions were “private without implicit backing of governments and typically have less access to support from Commonwealth sources in ongoing revenue”.
I think this is getting close to the underlying policy principle to which the government has been chaotically trying to align the legal rules.
Unfortunately it only semi-works in the case of Notre Dame, which is more reliant on public funds than any of the Table A public universities.
The trouble is that the underlying higher education funding system, like JobKeeper, is not based on clear principles. Notre Dame is really just a west coast version of the Australian Catholic University. If it had been founded 20 years earlier it would have been included in the incorporation of Catholic colleges into the public funding system, and be a Table A university today. (Table B gives access to public research funding. There are no formal criteria for listing, but in practice all institutions that meet the TEQSA rules on university status are put on Table B.)
My hopes of six years ago, that we could have a higher education system based on clear principles and rules, with higher education providers treated according to objective facts about their activities and students, are unfortunately long dashed.
We are back deep in the depths of ad hocery, and that means we have a lot of very untidy policymaking.