Ministers announce UK sector support measures, but no bailout

New mechanisms include bringing forward £2.6 billion of tuition fee payments and introducing student numbers caps for 20-21

May 4, 2020
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UK universities’ pleas for the government to provide a bailout to address the coronavirus crisis have not been answered, but ministers have announced a package of measures that includes bringing forward £2.6 billion in tuition fee payments.

Meanwhile ministers have signalled that they do not believe students being taught online will be entitled to refunds on their tuition fees.

The new measures also include a student number control system in England designed to stabilise admissions and university finances.

Higher education providers will be able to recruit full-time undergraduate UK and EU students for 2020-21 up to a temporary set level, based on their forecasts for the next academic year, plus an additional 5 per cent.

The government will also have the “discretion” to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services. 

In addition, £100 million of quality-related research funding will be brought forward into the current academic year “as immediate help to ensure research activities can continue during the crisis”.

The Student Loans Company will bring forward tuition fee payments to providers in the 2020-21 academic year, expected to be worth £2.6 billion, to help cash flow.

The government has also confirmed that higher education providers are eligible to apply for its support packages, including business loan support schemes.

And the government has also published further guidance about how providers should access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to safeguard staff jobs, “stating that any grant from the scheme should not duplicate other sources of public funding where these are being maintained, such as UK home student tuition fees”.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said: “We are committed to supporting our world class universities and students through this unprecedented challenging time. So we are putting measures in place to help protect students and staff from the impact of coronavirus. 

“I know this is an unsettling time for all involved, and we are working tirelessly with the sector to do everything we can to stabilise admissions and protect a vital part of our country’s economy and society. 

“I am very grateful to universities for their innovation and dedication in their frontline response at this time.” 

Universities UK’s call for a £2 billion bailout package for universities reportedly met with a cool response from the Treasury.

Dame Julia Buckingham, UUK president, said: “The package of interventions outlined today indicates a welcome recognition from government of the central role that universities will play in the recovery of the economy and communities and the urgent need to provide support for universities to weather the severe financial storm created by Covid-19. It is clear the government has listened to the concerns raised and has drawn from the suggestions that the sector has made.”

But she added: “Universities will want to examine and understand more fully the details of today’s announcement and then work with government to ensure that detailed measures are developed to meet both the scale and diversity of pressures that universities are facing – including further support to protect the strength, capacity and quality of the research base and ensure the sector is positioned to support economic and social recovery through research and innovation.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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