Over the course of this inquiry the committee heard a range of evidence relating to the extent and range of underpayments in the higher education sector, including by independent education providers and public universities.
As discussed in Chapter 1, around half of Australia's universities have been implicated in underpayment of staff, with underpayments affecting both casual academic and professional staff. The majority of the evidence received by the committee relates to underpayment of academic staff in public universities and forms the basis of this chapter.
Setting the scene
The Senate inquiry into job security considered the higher education sector across four chapters of its second report on publicly-funded jobs. It examined the value of higher education, including to Australia's economy, as well as the funding and structure of the sector, and extend of underpayments.
Whilst it is difficult to gain a full picture from the data, the latest figures from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) show that universities employ 129,178 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff, inclusive of casual, limited term, tenurial and other staff. The headcount of staff employed is likely to be considerably higher, as outlined in Table 4.1.
Full-time equivalent staffing has dropped by more than eight per cent since 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and the decline in international student numbers. Job losses especially impacted casual staff, with numbers falling by more than 15 per cent, or 4,500 FTE staff.
The job security inquiry reported on key trends in the higher education sector and employment within universities—all of which are linked with higher levels of underpayment:
increasing insecure work arrangements and casualisation of the workforce;
disproportionate numbers of women in insecure work at lower levels; and
higher proportions of younger workers in insecure work at lower levels.
The evidence of underpayments in universities received by this inquiry corresponds with and expands on the evidence and findings of the Select Committee on Job Security's second report.
Table 4.1: University employment figures, 2021
Jobs in universities are estimated to have dropped by around 40,000 positions, with job losses in the early part of the pandemic particularly affecting casual staff, and later losses affecting higher proportions of ongoing staff. There is some evidence that universities have started rehiring, but are employing staff on a temporary basis, potentially exacerbating insecure work in the sector.
Underpayment as a business model
Supported by similar findings from the University of Sydney Casuals' Network, Dr Anastasia Kanjere, from the Casualised, Unemployed, and Precarious University Workers (CUPUW) explained to the committee that:
Wage theft is systemic in higher education. In our experience, wage theft is not an aberration, nor is it an accident, it is core to the university business model.
Similarly, Dr Alison Barnes, National President of the NTEU stated:
We're absolutely aware that apart from those 14 universities [in which underpayments are already being investigated by the FWO] wage theft is both systematic and appears to be the business model upon which our public universities appear to be running.
However, Australian Higher Education Industrial Association (AHEIA) members 'took great exception' and 'great offence' to this characterisation, with Mr Stuart Andrews of AHEIA saying that while underpayment does occur, 'there have been very few disputes with respect to underpayment' and it is not deliberate nor systematic within the university sector:
AHEIA takes exception to the NTEU’s unsubstantiated assertions that Australian universities operate under a 'business model' that involves the deliberate underpayment of their staff. To the contrary, universities are earnest in their endeavours to ensure that their staff are paid correctly and are active in investigating payment issues and taking necessary remedial action to rectify any underpayment that might occur.
The University of Sydney also rejected the notion that wage theft is systemic, stating:
The University does not agree with the written submissions provided by the NTEU to the Committee that employees in public universities are subject to "large scale wage theft" and that the high rates of casualisation in tertiary education drive wage theft.
The committee heard that underpayments in the sector are due to system complexity—in relation to both wages and superannuation—legitimate redesignation of teaching (e.g. from tutorials to workshops), inaccurate recordkeeping, inconsistent application of rates. Rates of casualisation were justified by the need for universities to maintain flexible staffing arrangements.
Mr Andrews told the committee that universities are taking proactive steps to self-report and ensure staff are being paid their entitlements, for example through reviews and audits, saying 'we see universities as being very responsible, of their own volition'.
Professor Stephen Garton, Vice-Chancellor of University of Sydney agreed that the university had been proactive in identifying underpayments and advised that it had identified inadequate or inconsistent practices and payroll system deficiencies as causes of underpayments.
In contrast, a 2020 survey of 2,174 professional and academic staff carried out by the NTEU supported assertions about the widespread nature of underpayments in the higher education sector. The survey found that close to four out of five academic respondents (78.4 per cent) claimed they had been subject to some form of underpayment:
Most said this was because of unrealistic marking rates, while 39.1 per cent also alleged underpayment through tutorials being described as "information sessions, seminars, practice classes or workshops" which attract a lower rate of pay.
The NTEU has recovered around $35 million in underpayments to university staff, predominantly casuals.
The NTEU does not support arguments of undue complexity, contending that universities negotiated the arrangements and resisted attempts to clarify certain definitions and clauses in enterprise arrangements:
Some of the university submissions claim that the employment arrangements are complex and difficult to administer, yet each of these employers has negotiated them into their own university-specific enterprise agreements. These are not small business cafe owners navigating an industry award. They are large enterprises with sophisticated personnel resources who are claiming an inability to administer clauses they themselves negotiated. That claims just does not stand up.
… approximately 40 percent of public universities. Given that this is only the number where the issues were publicly known in September , this would seem to support our assertions that underpayments are widespread. There is a limit to the number of times that they can collectively describe each of these events as one-off errors.
Moreover, Dr Yaegan Doran from the University of Sydney Casuals' Network explained that because casuals are paid on the basis of a system which routinely underpays them for their work, and the universities rely on this system, wage theft is absolutely embedded in the business model of universities.
Universities spoke of some of the ways in which they are changing the way they engage staff and address underpayments outside of existing reviews and audits, such as:
establishing a dedicated claims line;
setting up time recording systems to record actual hours;
conducting annual audits;
implementing new payroll systems and processes;
clarifying definitions of academic tasks;
stopping the use of piece rates;
reducing casual staff; and
the creation of new academic roles for teaching-only staff to facilitate the conversion of casual teaching staff to part time and full-time employment.
By way of example, Professor Brigid Heywood, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England told the committee:
We have worked, I think, very positively with the support of Fair Work to use our system of setting up a special committee and having a member of council present to be part of the process not only to do the review of the underpayment and of how to reconcile that but also to bring the learning and good practice from that process forward into the organisation.
Faced with the enormous task of reviewing nearly 100,000 timesheets and pay records and inconsistencies in the way rates had been applied, RMIT agreed to increase each standard marking rate over the period of the review to the academic judgement rate, 'irrespective of the type of assessment actually completed'.
Monash University advised it has steps to reduce casualisation rates, creating new forms of employment, converting staff from fixed-term and casual employment to ongoing roles, with contracts made longer rather than shorter where possible. They have also committed to provide more secure employment to Monash PhD students.
Failure of governance
Senator Paul Scarr asked witnesses whether underpayments and related practices reflect basic corporate values of respect, integrity, and valuing staff. The overwhelming majority of academic staff who spoke to the committee responded with a resounding 'No'! Dr Doran said, 'the overarching value that drives the university is to pay as little as possible for as much work as they can get' and Dr Hayley Singer from the University of Melbourne Casuals' Network observing that 'it does not feel controversial to me to say that the university is operating through a culture of theft and that theft happens in many ways'.
Shockingly, the committee heard that some casual academic staff have been paid in gift certificates, instead of the wages, loadings, leave and superannuation to which they are legally entitled. Dr Singer told the committee:
I contested this at the time because I know I can't pay rent, pay for transport or pay for medical bills with gift cards. Senior academics pushed back against this, too, and still it went ahead. This is how casual and insecurely employed academics are treated when we bring our professionalism and our expertise onto campus and into the classroom.
… [university management] could not believe that there would be a problem with paying professionals, highly specialised people, with a gift card.
The NTEU and CUPUW, amongst others, suggested that the devolution of financial responsibilities to schools and faculties had incentivised the reclassification of work to improve the bottom line, with employment of casual academic staff being cheaper and easier than under more secure arrangements.
This view appears to concur with that of Professors Dewar, Gardner, and Garton, and the University of NSW which agreed that the delegations framework which sees contract approvals pushed to a faculty level has resulted in misinterpretations, inconsistencies and errors. The University of New England has now stopped this practice, in contrast to the University of Melbourne, where the practice appears to be continuing with the blessing of the leadership team.
Mr Andrews agreed that the costs associated with permanent employment are high, thus explaining higher rates of casualisation. However, he also pointed to uncertain ongoing need, staff having insufficient research output, or lack of credentials to undertake research as a full-time permanent appointment as explanations for the engagement of casual staff.
After hearing a range of evidence from witnesses, it was suggested by Senator Scarr that there has been a failure of leadership and governance in universities, with the Senator suggesting:
There's a moral dimension to this: the senior leadership of the organisation has a moral obligation, in my view, to do a deep dive into the experience of the casual staff and see what's actually happening and whether or not people are self-censoring their time sheets and not actually claiming that which they should be claiming. To me, this connotes a failure of leadership.
… (a) it was a gross administrative cock-up across the board … or (b) there was a systemic issue here in terms of conscious decisions being made by whoever has the authority within the organisation to try and err on the side of paying at the lesser rate …
In response, universities defended their leadership and governance, admitting that there had been errors, but denying that there had been failures in this regard. For example, Professor Sherman Young, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education at RMIT University contended:
We have taken responsibility and what we have now got in place, to mitigate against those challenges … So, yes, we have taken that responsibility. We have learnt that lesson, and we acknowledge that we have now progressed.
I don't disagree that things could have been improved, and we have improved them. I think casting them as a failure are words that I will not choose to use.
Importantly, La Trobe University acknowledged the prevalence of underpayments and the impacts on its staff:
We were extremely disappointed by these findings and sincerely apologised to all affected staff. Although the underpayments were unintentional, we deeply regret that this has occurred …
We took immediate action to pay all identified current casual staff who had been underpaid up until the end of 30 June 2021 …
We know from the review that there were also very likely to be overpayments. However, La Trobe has not quantified these and does not intend to recoup them.
As a result of the Review and our further analysis, La Trobe has acted to simplify and automate our systems and processes to ensure accurate payments to casual staff and to avoid future errors.
Professor Margaret Gardner, Vice-Chancellor of Monash University likewise apologised for underpayments to staff:
I just want to say a couple of other things. I have apologised, and I reiterate my apology unreservedly to all the staff and to the NTU as representative of them, and that apology was issued on 23 September 2021.
… [let me reiterate] Monash's commitment to ensuring that all staff are paid accurately and in a fully compliant manner; to attempt, as much as we can, to reduce the insecurity of employment both for fixed-term and casual staff and to put in place proposals to deliver that; and to improve support for staff, not just with greater employment security and ensuring that all employment conditions are fair and equitable but to ensure that they're completely aware of all the mechanisms available to them to raise complaints and grievances, either individually or collectively.
Professor Gardner went on to explain the importance of changing the culture and the value of leadership from the highest levels of the university:
… I would agree with you that culture is important. One of the reasons for doing the review … [is] saying, 'It's very important that we have this proposal, that we have people in more secure employment not less.' It's all about signalling and culture, and making people feel that they can raise the issue. Yes, I agree with you that culture is important; it's important that culture is right. However people might think it should be, whether it's based on past experience or current experience, you have to keep signalling that there is the opportunity to raise the issue and know that it will be listened to and actioned, and that you will be treated fairly and equitably.
Professor Dewar agreed that the underpayment of staff is absolutely unacceptable and pointed to changes that would help address the culture of underpayment:
We're implementing all of the recommendations of the audit, which include clearer guidance to our academic managers about how they should apply different payment rates to different staff. We will check that those guidelines are being adhered to; improve training for the academic staff who have to administer this system; make sure the casuals know what they're entitled to; and, as we referred to, create this third-party route for casuals to query payments where they think they're inaccurate. We think a combination of those things, coupled with improved systems that will make it harder for either party to enter inaccurate information leading to underpayment, will collectively start to shift the culture.
However, it appears that changing the underpayment culture is slow and difficult, with ABC News reporting on further underpayments in mid-March 2022. Ms Sarah Roberts, NTEU Assistant Secretary stated:
'The level of outrage has kind of built more and more over the long period of time this has been happening…
'… many universities, just don't actually have control over what's happening in their business. They make public commitments to fixing up these problems but they're not prepared to invest in enforcement and compliance'.
The Victorian Government appeared to be unconvinced that staff underpayment is being addressed, with the Hon Gayle Tierney MP, the Victorian Minister for Higher Education reportedly writing to the state's Vice-Chancellors in March asking for evidence of compliance. The Minister expressed her concern at the impacts of underpayments on the economy, international trade, and research, with particular emphasis on potential reputational damage to the sector.
Structure of underpayments
The committee received evidence of widespread underpayments occurring within universities across the country as a result of longer term underfunding of the sector, and the rise of precarious employment arrangements.
A range of witnesses told the committee that work is regularly underpaid or not paid at all, due to the way work is structured and accounted for.
Inappropriate redesignation of teaching work
A number of witnesses told the committee that in university recording systems teaching work has been redesignated—for example from a tutorial to an information session, seminar, practice class or workshop—to avoid paying the higher rate. Under this arrangement work may be paid at one-third to one-half of the rate under the original designation. Furthermore, evidence received by the committee indicated that academic staff have been coerced into misclassifying work, with the object of paying them at lower rates.
Highlighting the significant impact this has had, NTEU's survey found that nearly 40 per cent of academic staff surveyed have been affected by these arrangements. Providing an example of the situation at the University of Western Australia (UWA), the NTEU submitted that:
…contrary to the terms of the relevant enterprise agreement, since 2014 at least, some academic casuals have been denied payment at the rate applicable to tutorials under that agreement, by the sham redesignation of tutorials as "information sessions" (or similar names) which would attract a rate-of-pay between one-half and two-thirds lower than that applicable at the proper rate of pay.
Commenting on a similar case involving Macquarie University, the NTEU submitted:
NTEU has recently recovered over $50,000 for staff at Macquarie University after the Department of Mathematics and Statistics unilaterally reclassified tutorials as an activity that attracts a lower pay rate, on the same basis as was described above for the University of Western Australia and the University of Melbourne. This was despite the activity having undergone no substantive change.
Andrew X, a Delegate from Monash Casuals' Network, told the committee that casuals are being expected to do more work than the rate at which they are being paid, and he argued that definitions of teaching work need to be more clearly defined.
AHEIA, however, maintained that where universities decide to deliver courses via different delivery modes it is a matter of legitimate business decision, not underpayment—with this position upheld by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
Undervalued piece rates with unreasonable performance expectations
In relation to the use of piece rates the NTEU submitted that this practice is widespread in the university sector, despite relevant enterprise agreements providing for employees to be paid for marking on a time-taken basis. Dr Kanjere told the committee that 'all teaching labour performed by casual academics is paid by the piece rather than the hour', indeed making this approach common.
Universities apply a formula for calculating the hours worked for different types of work, based on what they believe is a reasonable or standard performance expectation, regardless of how long the work actually takes to complete. Rates can also vary, with less experienced staff allowed to claim additional words per hour, effectively meaning more experienced staff are paid less. Witnesses told the committee that the time allowed for these activities is consistently underestimated and 'reducing all the time'.
Articulating the reality of the situation, the NTEU further stated:
Nevertheless, the University of Melbourne and many others instead have payment systems which automatically assign an amount of pay for each piece of work marked, or sometimes for each student irrespective of the actual hours worked. Moreover, these estimates of time taken are often seriously inadequate.
Furthermore, the University of Sydney Casuals' Network found in its audit of work and time recording, that 'work allocated to casual staff consistently cannot be completed in the time allocated to undertake the work', with casual staff paid, on average, for only 57 per cent of the work completed, with higher rates of underpayment for women.
Echoing this, media investigations into underpayments of university staff have reported that 'tutors at some of Australia's sandstone universities are being told to do a "poor job" and "skim read" student essays to meet impossible marking pay rates'. Indeed, students at Murdoch University were purportedly told that parts of their assessments would not be marked, due to the amount of time allocated for marking and providing feedback having been reduced by one third.
Universities argued that staff who took longer to prepare or mark work did so by their own choice and not with the agreement of the university, and that performance expectations are set with the agreement of unions. Dr Pooja Sawrikar discovered that the university would not accept her claim for all hours worked, on the basis that the hours had not been approved:
I began keeping an accurate daily time-stamped time diary [of work associated with teaching]. The person who rejected this evidence did so on the grounds that 'no one is allowed to work overtime without written permission'.
The University of Sydney defended its decision not to pay staff for work they had undertaken, saying:
… that's not an order from the university. That's the person deciding to take longer to prepare, over and above, what is prescribed in the enterprise agreement. The university hasn't asked them to do that extra work.
Professor Garton also argued that the basis of payment arrangements are known and have been in place and 'enshrined' for a long time (40 years or more). However, under questioning from Senator Tony Sheldon the Professor agreed that academic staff are dealing with greater complexities which have added to their already high workloads, for example much higher proportions of international students, including those with English as a second language, and students generally requiring higher levels of support.
In addition, staff who receive negative reviews from students, who have complained that they have received inadequate feedback and support— because lecturers are not familiar with coursework, because they don't receive sufficient feedback on their assessments, or because staff do not have time to provide pastoral care—risk losing future employment.
Failure to pay minimum engagement provisions
The committee also received evidence that universities are not meeting minimum engagement provisions as stipulated in workplace agreements. For example, the committee was advised that it is not uncommon for staff to be paid 45 minutes or possibly an hour, for their time in cases where a minimum two-hour engagement is required.
Academic staff explained that they are routinely expected to complete a variety of unpaid work. This includes preparing for and attending lectures, coordinating courses, attending staff meetings, communicating with students, administrative work, mandatory training, and partaking in requisite professional development activities.
Staff also undertake additional work to adjust courses for students living with a disability, or for whom English is a second language, and large numbers of staff worked hard to convert courses to online delivery during the pandemic.
The committee heard that casual staff have been prevented from submitting timesheets which record the actual hours they worked. The CUPUW provided an example:
… when details of the self-audit were released, it was revealed that it was based on casual timesheets – timesheets where casually employed staff were not in fact allowed to submit the actual hours they worked, only the hours pre-determined by managers.
Staff submitting timesheets in accordance with the two-hour minimum engagement provisions have also been told that they have overcharged for their time and their time recording has been rejected.
Accordingly, such underpayments remain hidden and are not identified in any payroll review or audit because hours and pay reconcile. In its own audit of actual hours versus paid hours the University of Sydney Casual's Network found a significantly high number of casual staff (approximately 90 per cent) performed unpaid work. While the university officially denied knowledge of further underpayments:
… managers eventually acknowledged privately that some casual staff may not be being paid for all of their work, but they also argued that this was the fault of casual staff themselves. It was argued that casual staff could have claimed for all their hours that were worked the whole time they just chose not to. This was, of course, patently false—
Overreliance on post-graduate students and honorary affiliates
Universities also appear to have over relied on post-graduate students and honorary research affiliates to deliver what is arguably core business for universities. These staff have been used regularly to undertake work that is more traditionally and appropriately completed by researchers or technical staff—for example, supervising PhD students, assisting on field trips, training new students, preparing laboratories, or developing safety documentation. Dr Doran said that while he finds honorary affiliate work rewarding, it is unpaid, with staff who lose their jobs regularly offered an honorary affiliate 'as a kind of conciliatory measure'.
Universities characterised the use of these cohorts of students for casual teaching as an opportunity for them to earn supplementary income and to develop teaching experience.
Undue pressure, fear and reprisals
Post-graduate students and academic staff have the pressures of studying, researching and publishing academic work, while at the same time pursuing a career as an academic and teaching. Students and staff pursuing an academic career are heavily reliant on positive feedback and goodwill from their supervisors and students for references, reviews, and further employment.
As such, the capacity of casual academic staff, in particular, to complain about their employment arrangements and pay is 'very low' for fear of jeopardising their future. The NTEU and CUPUW, amongst other inquiry participants, advised that a 'considerable number' of higher education sector workers wished to pursue their wage theft claims anonymously 'demonstrating the fear that prevents casual staff in this sector from pursuing wage justice'. In fact, a number of witnesses to this inquiry also chose to provide their evidence anonymously for fear of reprisals.
Notably, a survey initiated by the La Trobe Casuals' Network in 2020 found that close to 50 per cent of respondents 'feared repercussions if they asked to be paid for all hours worked', with one respondent commenting:
'… [I was] constantly being asked to claim less than what I was paid. Doing the job of the unit coordinator because she had so much extra work to do and was swamped also. In a strange way I was relieved to be unemployed this semester because it greatly helped my mental health, despite now being broke'.
On the subject of the cost and time take to deal with university wage theft after the fact, and on an ad hoc basis, Dr Kanjere stated:
At every single university where we have seen a big win for workers, we have also seen specific rank-and-file casual activists targeted personally. That is a cost that is baked into this post hoc way of dealing with this pressing issue.
The committee heard of the difficulty of speaking up and the consequence of not being re-employed, particularly when staff are already casual and are not reappointed, and when there is a ready supply of academics to fill their vacancy. Dr Doran advised 'there is a lot of anecdotal evidence' of employment consequences, with the committee hearing similar evidence from Dr Liam Kane from CUPUW:
… it was not necessarily uncommon to hear people, at the very least, mentioning that they were scared that, if they were to do a certain thing, it would adversely affect their employment. I heard stories in some faculties of universities where people had been blacklisted [sic]. There was some kind of record kept somewhere by management, whether it be in physical form or just verbally, and people could not get employment at this particular part of the university.
Dr Giles Fielke from the Monash Casuals' Network summed this point up succinctly:
… the only real way to ensure you're paid your wages on time in that two-weekly cycle is to do what you're told and not ask questions, otherwise you might end up not getting paid anything at all.
Impacts on academics
Academic staff suffer from the same impacts of underpayment as other employees, as discussed in Chapter 1. However, for many academic staff the impacts are magnified because of the passion they have for their work, academic life's unique connection between work and identity, and the difficult ethics of their choices:
The undervaluation of teaching embodied in [inaudible] leaves casual academics in a difficult position. Do we work strictly to the hours set in our contract, knowing we are short-changing students who, understandably, expect their teachers to be well resourced, or do we commit to unpaid work, knowing we are participating in an exploitative system and consenting to the further normalisation of wage theft? If every one of us worked strictly to the hours set in our contract, we would provide a shallow and diminished education. Important work like providing feedback to students would simply not occur. Most casual academics accept exploitation for the sake of their students and their scholarly integrity.
The committee heard that generally, academic staff are 'passionately involved in their discipline', care deeply about their students, and want to develop their own teaching and research career. They need to work as academics to build their experience—often with few employment opportunities in highly specialised fields—and to obtain this experience they take on casual academic work, sometimes over extended periods of time.
The opportunities for academics to be re-employed elsewhere are also low, with many academic staff already working across multiple universities and employers to 'cobble together sufficient income to live on'.
David, a witness to the inquiry who did not wish to use his full name, told the committee about his experiences as a dedicated casual academic staff member:
A problem with the sector is that it relies on my goodwill and my love for teaching and my care for the students to do work that would be minimum requirements. The university itself doesn't pay me to meet those minimum requirements, so to speak. I'm supposed to give good feedback on an assignment. I'm supposed to give detailed understanding and focus to what a student is creating or making or if they're having out-of-hours issues or problems … I'm underpaid in almost every aspect. The catch-22 with this is, if I did my job according to the standard to which I'm paid at university, I would be considered a pretty poor teacher. The university could then turn around to me and say, 'Well, you're not very good, your student feedback doesn't give you a very good recommendation, and therefore we can let you go'.
Impacts on students
Witnesses told the committee that casual academic staff provide a range of work that is core to universities, which go well beyond teaching, tutoring, and marking, including providing supervision, coordinating courses, developing courses, and providing feedback and pastoral care to students: 'We build relationships that can change a student's [life]. We are the workers who educate the next generation of young people'.
The committee heard that underpayment of academic staff constitutes a 'deep disrespect' for students, affecting education quality and impacting their future careers. Dr Singer explained her situation:
I know that I am not alone when I say that I have been, and am still, in an impossible situation: either I undertake work for free, which amounts to wage theft, or my students receive a substandard education, which amounts to education theft. I will not compromise on what I offer students. The university relies on this, so for now the wage theft continues.
Impacts on future capability of the sector
In a view shared by CUPUW, Ms Gabrielle Gooding, from the NTEU explained that 'significant and longstanding underfunding by the federal government' is at the root of the problem, requiring universities to do more with less.
CUPUW suggested that universities are well aware of the wage theft occurring in their institutions, saying 'it contributes to the cheapness of academic labour and, along with the fees extracted from international students, has been enabling university services in an underfunded sector for years'.
Underpayment is known to have resulted in experienced, professional staff leaving the sector, denying students the opportunity to be taught knowledgeable and dynamic staff and raising questions about the future sustainability of the sector.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) suggested that Australian universities have become over-reliant on international student fees for income, making universities susceptible to changes in student numbers—as highlighted by the pandemic—and resulting in understaffing, and reliance on insecurely employed staff and unpaid work. This view was supported by Ms Zoe Ranganathan from the National Union of Students.
Professor Dowton also highlighted the funding issues for universities, advising that research grants have become more competitive over time and that consequently universities must look outside public institutions for research funding.
Mr Errol Phuah from CAPA highlighted the longer-term challenges for the sector as courses and students receive less support, the quality of education diminishes, and course offerings fall. He noted that students are less likely to receive the quality of education that they have paid for, and come to Australia for, with flow on effects to their future careers and employment.
Given the value of the sector to the Australian economy—$37.4 billion—not to mention the importance of universities to knowledge, innovation, and societal change, the evidence received by this inquiry begs the question how might wage theft be addressed?