The University of Sydney has been locked out of the federal government's coronavirus wage subsidies in what higher education chiefs have called the final twist of the knife to Australian institutions.
The federal government has amended its JobKeeper scheme, closing a loophole which had allowed about 7000 of the university's employees to apply for the allowance.
All Universities will now have to demonstrate a more than 50 per cent drop in revenue between January and June compared to the same period last year.
Other organisations can choose any month or quarter between September and April.
Sydney University had been the only institution to qualify under the scheme's original rules.
In an email to employees on Monday, vice-chancellor, Doctor Michael Spence, said the outcome was disappointing but the university remained hopeful the government would protect higher education from the economic devastation of COVID-19.
He also assured staff the university would not reclaim any top-up payments made in anticipation of receiving JobKeeper funding.
Innovation Research Universities executive director Conor King claimed federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had already reframed the scheme six times.
"Universities have turned with every twist of the knife, only to be left to heal ourselves each time. This seems to be the final twist of the knife," he said.
Greens education spokesperson Senator Mehreen Faruqi also accused the government of "bending over backwards" to disqualify universities from funding.
"This is farcical and sinister stuff," Senator Faruqi told the Upper House on Monday.
"Universities have been dealing with huge uncertainties for months now. Constantly shifting the goalposts is not only enormously unfair to them in this crisis, but reveals the Liberals' malice towards higher education."
In an update sent to staff last month, Dr Spence had warned Sydney university could lose around $470 million in full-fee paying, international student revenue this year alone.
Some international students will be eligible for state government assistance, with those struggling to make ends meet in Victoria able to apply for a one-off $1100 cash payment while some will also be eligible for rent relief and support seeking employment.
The federal government has promised to keep its funding to universities at $18 billion for the year, even if student numbers drop.
And a new online short course qualification has been created for an extra 20,000 places to help support people during the crisis wanting to retain or upskill.
But Universities Australia has estimated the sector will still shed about 21,000 jobs across 39 institutions.
Combined, the sector is predicted to lose between $3 billion and $4.6 billion in 2020.
National cabinet discussions this week are expected to include the reopening of higher education campuses, with a decision on easing social and economic clamps to be announced on Friday.
Australian Associated Press