Jobless Australians will be encouraged to “use their time” during the coronavirus outbreak to retrain online as nurses, teachers and other vital professions.
The federal government says prices will be slashed on a range of tertiary courses by more than 50 per cent in a bid to fill skill shortages once the pandemic is over.
Education Minister Dan Tehan will on Sunday announce measures to assist the university sector which is forecast to lose up to $4.6 billion in revenue.
For the first time, the government says it will provide 20,000 greatly reduced places in six-month diplomas or graduate certificates delivered remotely by universities or private institutions.
The online courses starting in May will focus on what are deemed to be “areas of national priority”, such as nursing, teaching, counselling, IT and science.
“This plan will help Australians who have lost their job or are looking to retrain to use their time studying nursing, teaching, counselling, allied health or other areas considered national priorities,” Mr Tehan told the ABC.
“The cost of these courses has been reduced by over 50 per cent, and in some instances up to 74 per cent,” he said.
“There has been a disruption to the economy, so we are providing an opportunity for people to re-skill or to look at other areas to advance their careers.”
Mr Tehan said the Morrison government would guarantee $18 billion funding for universities even if there was a fall in domestic enrolment numbers and $100 million in regulatory fee relief.
It comes amid forecasts of an unemployment rate of 5.4 per cent – the highest in four years – when the March jobs data is released on Thursday, compared with 5.1 per cent in February.
However economists expect the jobless rate could almost double towards 10 per cent by the middle of the year as the economy sinks into a deep recession, the first in nearly 30 years.
Mr Tehan said the education package would help shape the new economy that would emerge from the pandemic.
“This plan will help Australians who have lost their job or are looking to retrain,” he said.
“It will also provide a revenue stream for universities and private providers to assist their financial stability.”
He said like the rest of the Australian community, the higher education sector had taken a financial hit because of the coronavirus and lost income from a drop in international students.
“The university sector came to the government about three weeks ago and said that their No.1 priority was to be able to get a guarantee for their domestic student load,” he said.
“We have done that now, this will put ballast into university funding for the rest of the year,” he said.