Unions unconvinced by UK’s research rescue package

Aiming of grants and loans at research-intensive providers raises fears for teaching-focused institutions

June 29, 2020
Downing Street

Unions have called on the UK government to do more to protect universities and students, following the release of a package of grants and loans targeted at research-focused institutions.

Ministers announced £280 million of grant funding to support salary and research costs associated with projects that have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemics, which will be made available immediately.

They also said that research-active institutions would be able, from the autumn, to access long-term, low-interest loans, covering up to 80 per cent of the loss in come from declines in international student recruitment, up to the value of a provider’s non-publicly funded research activity.

While the package was welcomed by sector leaders, the University and College Union said that the announcement “fails to put students and staff at the centre of its recovery plans”.

“The proposals barely mention students other than to make clear that universities which focus most on teaching will receive little of the new money now available,” said Jo Grady’s, the union’s general secretary.

“The failure to properly support the sector means that casual staff and those from BAME backgrounds will suffer the most as universities lose academic capacity and seek to get rid of staff. This is an insult to staff who responded so impressively, keeping institutions open and students learning.

“We desperately need a package that prioritises the needs of students and staff across our diverse higher education sector and guarantees all universities’ survival. This is why we are calling on the government to properly underwrite the sector and fund the future.”

The National Union of Students said that it was “extremely concerned that only a select group of universities will benefit from this package”.

“The institutions with the largest proportions of disadvantaged students could suffer the most, turning back the clock on access to higher education,” the union said.

The government said that it was still working on developing “a process through which higher education providers at risk of closure will be able to apply to government to access a restructuring regime as a last resort”.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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