Fears of universities going bust ‘reignited if students leave’

Head of higher education at Lloyds Banking Group says pandemic’s impact on student experience ‘hugely concerning’

November 4, 2020

Fears about the “viability” of some universities could be “reignited” if students opt to leave university, or stay at home after Christmas, according to the head of higher education at Lloyds Banking Group, a major sector lender.

Andrew Connors made the warning at a webinar on the long-term impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on higher education, hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute, which also heard predictions that the crisis could herald a shift towards the “comprehensivisation” of the sector if more students opt to live at home for the duration of their studies.

“The impact of the pandemic on the student experience is hugely concerning,” Mr Connors told the event. “There is real worry around the decisions students may make now, or may make over the Christmas holidays, when they have time to pause for breath and reflect.

“The key risks are that students will decide this isn’t the experience they wanted and leave, or that they are enjoying the online experience so much that they opt to enjoy it from the comfort of home rather than in locked down student accommodation.

“If this happens, the financial impact on lost accommodation fees and the infrastructure built around the campus experience may be significant. It will reignite concerns around the viability of some institutions, in my view.”

Meanwhile, former Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook predicted the rise of a “digital residential model” that could lead to more students living at home while studying. She argued that student accommodation was becoming increasingly “unaffordable” and an “unnecessary barrier to access”.

This all raised the question of whether the pandemic could drive a shift to “comprehensivisation”, if students opted for a local university and lived at home, which would create more academically and socially mixed intakes at universities.

Ms Curnock Cook added: “I can’t help wondering: will future students ever feel confident to sign up in their masses for three years of study away from home and for 12-month contracts for accommodation?”

Nick Petford, the University of Northampton vice-chancellor, said that the pandemic had “put a digital rocket up the backsides of mainstream higher education – and frankly that’s not before time”.

But more significant, he felt, would be “revolutionary” technology in virtual reality and augmented reality, which would create “mixed reality” learning experiences.

The long-term shift would be to “demand-led, stackable, modular learning delivered at the convenience of the consumer, not the vendor”, he argued.


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Reader's comments (4)

Students want face to face teaching,and yes if they don't get it I think they will go to a local University.My eldest is at Exeter University,despite being promised' blended 'learning, has had no in person teaching.She and I feel duped
Funnily enough myself and other H&S reps were discussing Exeter earlier today and the covid case count, though we see Exeter, like Durham, as Universities of choice for the less able (one Academic rep used the term 'thick posh kids') but well off not good enough to get into Oxbridge. I know Exeter had a massive drugs problem a few years ago too, perhaps it's because of the entitled hedonistic s-TOO-DENSE behaviour that it's forced the University to avoid F2F?
The whole point of the university experience is to move away from home and grow up whilst undergoing a transformation leading to membership of the realm of the educated with all its lifetime opportunities. It is not about just bolting on skills and living at home. There comes a time to gain independence from parents, who will one day not be there (as is the case for me) when the former child is a parent and then a grandparent. The pandemic cannot last forever so although the HE sector will be changed, the traditional experience will return.
This article is very low level, nothing new and no evidence. Worse there is no follow on ‘so what’. Way below a level 4 piece of work based on lots of nothing. Sorry but I Wasted my time reading it. Let’s get real the University sector is way overblown, many students without the desire to learn and engagement required. It’s over for many.