UNIVERSITIES and the government must look beyond the immediate and short-term impact of COVID-19 and work together to develop a long term plan for how to survive future crises.
University of Newcastle (UON) Professor of Health Economics and Policy, Francesco Paolucci, said universities and governments needed to consider risk sharing and cost sharing to ensure institutions survived the fallout from the pandemic.
"In times or situations where you have sectors that involve the offering of things that are, in a nutshell, fundamental to your economy, you typically expect robust government support," Dr Paolucci said.
But while this was happening in other countries, Australian universities had seen staff unable to access the government's JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments.
"It is not clear to me what the rationale is, given the importance of the sector," he said.
"Unless it's taken as an opportunity to reform it, then that needs to be made clear.
"It's a picture that looks pretty negative in terms of the sustainability of the sector.
"You might end up in a sector that takes such a haircut that it's then not able to respond to the demand that is likely to be even greater than ever before, when people... who can't find employment maybe want to spend time in education."
Vice-Chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky AO has told staff UON was expecting a forecast loss of income of around $58 million for 2020.
Dr Paolucci suggested a "solidarity industry fund", designed to "manage our resources for these types of risks occurring".
"There needs to be some consideration from now and going forward to actually pull together resources like you do in any context where you have a risk and create resources that can be used in these circumstances," he said.
"It could be more government funded perhaps in the beginning, because we're now facing a terrible crisis, but to move forward you could have increasing contributions from the universities so it becomes an industry fund to mange these risks."
Pro Vice-Chancellor (COVID-19 Response Leader) Learning and Teaching, Professor Liz Burd, said UON wanted to be part of a pilot to bring international students back and into quarantine so they could resume their studies.
Dr Paolucci said this cost is "inferior to losing students altogether or losing them to other countries". He said there needed to be flexibility around visas for this cohort, in relation to the time they spent studying online.