Hundreds of job losses, salary cuts and campus closures - the full financial crush of the COVID-19 pandemic on Queensland's university sector has been laid bare for the first time.

The latest annual reports from the state's higher education institutions have shone an alarming light on the multimillion-dollar black hole the sector faces, largely due to a colossal fall in international student numbers.

It comes just days after federal Education Minister Alan Tudge announced plans to begin consultation on a 10-year strategy to overhaul Australia's international education sector.

Griffith University reported its first operating loss in its history, falling short by more than $5 million due to a decline in income of more than $64 million - $20 million of which was directly due to the loss of international students.

More than 320 staff were made redundant or accepted early retirement since the beginning of 2020, with Griffith estimating a $700 million shortfall in revenue over the next five years.

"Underlying student demand, the ongoing COVID-19 impacts, continuing border restrictions, and geopolitical factors strongly suggest heightened risk levels for some time to come," vice-chancellor Carolyn Evans said.

Griffith University Vice Chancellor Carolyn Evans predicts universities will feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for some time to come. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Griffith University Vice Chancellor Carolyn Evans predicts universities will feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for some time to come. Picture: Mark Cranitch

Meanwhile the Queensland University of Technology reported a $106 million decline in income, including more than $24 million in international student fees.

As a result the university was forced to implement a "travel freeze and recruitment chill" with more than 150 staff made redundant as the university transitioned to a reduced faculty configuration this year, though some new positions were created.

Even the university's carparking revenue was impacted by the pandemic, with parking fees down $2.7 million due to a drop in demand.

Though the University of Queensland achieved a healthy surplus of $108.7 million, it still suffered a $28 million fall in course fees, with the report stating a reduction in revenue was expected to continue "for some years".

The University of Queensland stayed in the green for 2020 but still suffered a loss of $28 million in course fees. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire
The University of Queensland stayed in the green for 2020 but still suffered a loss of $28 million in course fees. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA NewsWire

CQUniversity was forced to close its Sunshine Coast campus in Noosa, as well as its Biloela and Yeppoon study centres.

"In response to the COVID-19 challenge, CQUniversity, like most other organisations, has had to make some difficult but important decision about its future and how it needs to operate in a post-pandemic environment," Vice-Chancellor Nick Klomp said.

The university had projected a loss of more than $100 million due to the pandemic but pulled that back to a deficit $34 million thanks to quick cost-cutting efforts, with income from international students down $53 million.

Executive salaries were slashed by 20 per cent, all pay increases frozen, and operational divisions cut from seven to four.

CQUniversity vice-chancellor Professor Nick Klomp says the university must continue to act in a “fiscally responsible way”.
CQUniversity vice-chancellor Professor Nick Klomp says the university must continue to act in a “fiscally responsible way”.

About 290 staff left the university either through voluntary or forced redundancies.

"Despite the organisational restructure and cost-savings the COVID-19 impacts are likely to continue well into 2021, so the university must continue to act in a fiscally responsible way and find new opportunities to grow the business, especially in the areas of vocational education, short courses, postgraduate study and hyperflexible online course offerings," Professor Klomp said.

University of Southern Queensland also had about 54 staff take redundancy packages, while senior staff at James Cook University took pay cuts.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the pain of COVID-19 was expected to continue into 2021 - and for years to come - with a further $2 billion in lost revenue predicted this year.

More than 17,000 jobs have been lost in universities across the country since the beginning of the pandemic.

Originally published as Job losses, salary cuts, campus closures in uni COVID fallout


Fresh plan to create ‘Hollywood of the South Pacific’

Premium Content Fresh plan to create ‘Hollywood of the South Pacific’

International-quality sound stage is expected to cost more than $20m

Man charged twice over one alleged COVID breach, court hears

Premium Content Man charged twice over one alleged COVID breach, court hears

The accused said he doesn’t know why he was charged