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In the news 8 May 2020

Government support package for universities brings conditions but no new money

A much-anticipated announcement from the government on support for universities finally arrived on Sunday, but it delivered no money for the sector and brought in conditions.

The government made much of bringing forward tuition fee income for universities, but on Monday confirmed it was actually still going to come in two instalments. UCU said the package failed to deliver the stability that students, staff and the communities they serve so desperately needed, while the Financial Times said the measures "sent a clear message that the sector must also now prepare to embrace reform".

Responding to the news in the Guardian, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The Office for Budget Responsibility says universities are most at risk of financial pain from the current crisis and they need more than IOUs to solve the problems they face.

'Instead of kicking the can down the road, the government must underwrite funding lost from a fall in domestic and international student numbers and remove incentives for universities to compete against each other at a time when we need to be pulling together.'


Scottish funding boost for universities highlights urgent need for support from Westminster

The Scottish government announced that its universities are to receive a £75m funding boost to help them cope with the Covid-19 crisis. UCU said the move highlighted the need for action from the UK government.

UCU Scotland Official Mary Senior said: 'This funding is welcome as universities face a potentially enormous drop in income from international student fees as a result of the pandemic. While the money will go some way to plugging a widening funding gap, clearly it cannot cover the full losses.

'The Scottish government's funding announcement highlights the need for urgent action from the UK government to support our universities, students and staff. These are unprecedented times and without those guarantees to underwrite those losses, our universities risk being greatly damaged at just the time they are needed most.'


Labour "very disappointed" with government support package for universities

Labour has said the government's package for universities does not do enough to address the fallout from Covid-19 in an open letter to staff and students.

Writing for Research professional, shadow universities and further education minister Emma Hardy highlighted how important universities have been in training the healthcare workers and scientists responding to this crisis, how integral they will be to the nation's economic recovery, and how essential they are to local communities.

She said that we cannot allow any university to close its doors because that would add to the economic impact of those already hardest hit by the virus, and she joined UCU in calling for comprehensive support from the government.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post earlier in the week she also highlighted that universities are one of the few large employers offering graduate level jobs in regions like Yorkshire.


New student number cap is "unworkable" warns expert

In a blog for the Higher Education Policy Institute, its founder and former director, Bahram Bekhradnia, explained how the government's so-called cap on domestic student recruitment in September won't stop better-placed universities from hoovering up students.

He said that the plan to limit student recruitment to universities' forecasted intake plus 5% was not a cap because it included EU students who are unlikely to come to Britain during the Covid-19 crisis. He said that this means universities could recruit up to 40% more domestic students, making a mockery of the supposed cap.

He also makes the point that universities' forecasts are likely to be wrong and, even if they were right, a 5% margin is too wide. He said the government's decision to implement the cap suggests that it does not think the Office for Students can protect universities.

Jo Grady this week described the cap as a "misnomer" that will enable the wealthiest universities to substantially grow their domestic student base at the expense of other more locally-focussed institutions.


UCU urges SOAS to work with the union to find a solution to jobs threat

UCU has urged SOAS University of London to work with the union after the institution warned of "painful measures" due to the Covid-19 crisis. SOAS threatened job cuts as part of a restructuring plan to address its financial problems in an email to staff yesterday.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, UCU SOAS branch president Tom Armstrong said: 'We've had falling student recruitment, an expensive estate in London - hence the selling off of the Russell Square buildings. We've suffered since the tuition fee regime lifted the number cap, as bigger London institutions were able to hoover up some students who would have chosen SOAS. It has produced an existential crisis.

'Now with Covid-19 and the struggle to recruit students, financial shortfalls will increase and the situation will be much worse. While other institutions such as Imperial, King's and UCL may bounce back it is not clear whether SOAS will be able to. People are very worried for their future. UCU should be included in discussions on the way forward to survive the present crisis.'


Roehampton criticised for announcing "devastating" job cuts

The University of Roehampton have been criticised for "devastating" plans to cut 70 jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis. Roehampton announced plans to cut jobs and pay, under voluntary severance and salary reduction schemes, as part of a series of measures in an email to staff yesterday.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Roehampton UCU branch chair Linda Cronin said that a voluntary severance scheme is no good for staff as they won't be able to find jobs elsewhere because universities have stopped hiring due to Covid-19.

She said the news had been devastating for people, particularly as they are isolated at home. 'People have done really well and put an amazing amount of effort in to teaching students online. Redundancies during this period would be incredibly difficult,' she said.


UCU warns of dangers of opening schools too quickly

UCU joined teaching unions from across the UK and Ireland on Monday, warning of a very real risk of a spike in Covid-19 transmission if schools open too early.

In a letter to the education ministers of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the unions urged significant caution in any decision to reopen schools. They said that any decision to reopen schools would first require significant changes to ensure effective social distancing, strong hygiene routines, appropriate PPE, and ongoing risk assessments to monitor operations.


Colleges' financial health fears over Covid-19

Tes reports that colleges are fearing a drop in income due to the Covid-19 crisis, with 40% predicting financial losses, 33% predicting cash flow issues, and 13% fearing that they may become insolvent.

The survey from by the Association of Colleges (AoC) showed how severe the impact of lockdown has been on college finances, causing a shortfall in funding.

AoC chief executive David Hughes said: 'Colleges have suffered a decade of neglect before this crisis, resulting in many colleges financially weaker than they would like. The crisis will make that worse, and our survey confirms that college leaders are deeply worried about their finances over the next 12 months and beyond.'


Last updated: 8 May 2020