Jobs will be slashed at the University of New England (UNE) as the institution aims to save $20 million per year in a new restructuring plan announced on Wednesday 22nd July.
The university is reporting a deficit of $25 million for the financial year 2019-2020.
Vice-Chancellor and CEO Professor Brigid Heywood said there is a complicated mix of factors contributing to the deficit.
"The university is facing some financial issues due to drought, fire and COVID-19 all rolling together into one painful bundle," said Professor Heywood.
UNE has just over 7% of enrollments from international students which is comparatively low when compared to other Australian universities such as the University of Technology Syndey and the Queensland University of Technology who have 34% and 19% of international enrollments respectively.
Professor Heywood said the university has not only lost significant income from the lack of international students but a general lack of students using university-owned facilities.
"We have lost $8-$9 million dollars of our budget this year from a shift in international student attendance and registrations".
"We have a large residential complex here in Armidale and we've lost about $10 million this year because of people not being able to attend and use the residential facilities".
Professor Heywood said the university also hosts a number of sports facilities in the area and due to drought, bushfires and COVID people have not been able to use the facilities leading to a loss of additional millions of dollars of income for the university.
There has been speculation from union groups that roughly 200 jobs will be cut however, Professor Heywood said its "really painful" to put forward jobs cuts and it's impossible to say exactly how many jobs will go.
"It's about 12% of our workforce if you take an average salary and average position," said Professor Heywood.
The university is currently seeking expressions of interest from staff interested in taking voluntary redundancy and will implement the major restructure by January 2021.
"It could be that a whole group of more 'expensive' senior staff put their hands up, in which case it would be a fewer number than if it were a significant number of low-level administrative colleagues who indicated they'd like to take voluntary severance," said Professor Heywood.
NSW Labour Senator Tim Ayres said he wants the government to step up and provide a rescue package for universities to save regional jobs and localised research.
"This is very bad news for New England in terms of jobs, it's very bad news in terms of students because its the key institution teaching school leavers in the North West of NSW and its very bad news in terms of the critical research the university does for regional and rural NSW," said Senator Ayres.
Professor Heywood said whilst the university wouldn't turn down funding she doesn't think they deserve special treatment when many businesses are struggling.
"I wouldn't say no if the Minister for Education turned up with a cheque for $100 million and said here you are, " said Professor Heywood, " But I'm not quite sure why we would be more privileged than anybody else caught out in the unbelievably difficult times."
Professor Heywood said the University is fully committed and will continue with their plan to expand the Tamworth campus.