Voters in UK marginals ‘back government bailout for universities’

UCU poll seeks to step up political pressure on ministers to offer extra funding for universities during pandemic

July 15, 2020

Most voters in election battleground “university constituencies” want government intervention to support institutions during the coronavirus crisis, according to polling commissioned by the University and College Union.

The union’s poll of just over 1,000 people, carried out by YouGov, follows speculation over whether or not the government would step in to “bail out” English universities pushed over a financial precipice by the crisis – and appeared to be an attempt to highlight the political reasons for the government to offer support to institutions.

YouGov polled voters from the “30 most marginal seats where at least 10 per cent [of the population] were students”, the UCU said.

That produced a list of 11 Conservative and 13 Labour seats, including four traditionally Labour constituencies that turned Tory at the last general election, along with the seats of Boris Johnson in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and science minister Amanda Solloway in Derby North.

“Over three-quarters of those polled said their local university was important in creating local jobs (76 per cent) and important to the local economy (79 per cent),” the UCU said. “While similar numbers said the local university was key to bringing outside investment to the local area (72 per cent), and supplying key skilled staff for local services like schools and hospitals (75 per cent).”

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, and Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, have both made speeches indicating support for reducing the number of people going into university.

In the UCU’s poll, 66 per cent of those surveyed “said they feared that there would be a negative impact on the local economy if student numbers dropped as a result of the Covid-19 crisis”, the union said. “While three-quarters (75 per cent) feared a negative impact should a local university go bust.”

The union added that 55 per cent of those polled “said they would support a temporary increase in government financial support for the university or universities in their local area so they could maintain courses and jobs during the recovery from the coronavirus outbreak. Just one in five (20 per cent) opposed the idea.”

That support applied across the political spectrum, with 56 per cent of voters in Tory-held seats and 53 per cent in Labour-held seats backing a temporary increase in support for their local institution, UCU added.

Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, said: “This polling makes it clear just how big a footprint universities have in their communities. Voters in some of the most marginal seats in the UK rightly fear the impact that universities’ worsening finances will have both on their own jobs and the local economy.

“The government must now provide reassurances for universities and the local communities who depend on them. Report after report has warned about the coming financial crisis for universities, yet the government has refused to act.

“The message from voters across the political divide is crystal clear on this issue. They want politicians to campaign for their local university to be safeguarded, and they want the government to step in and guarantee lost funding for universities so they can weather this crisis and lead the recovery.”

The UCU has launched a Fund The Future campaign, which urges the government to provide “emergency support for universities to cover income lost due to the pandemic”.

Emma Hardy, Labour’s shadow minister for further and higher education, said: “This government cannot allow any university to fail, and it must ensure everyone in every region with the aspiration to attend university can do so, regardless of background or circumstance.

“Universities are also significant employers, and it would be disastrous for local communities and economies to lose them, particularly in areas of high deprivation.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Given the number of current and former staff living close by most Universities the result is unsurprising.
I was about to add the same comment. What's that bear doing in the woods over there?

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