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Almost a quarter of prospective students fear their university could go bust as a result of Covid-19 crisis

3 June 2020

Survey reveals students' fears over cuts and negative impact on education, as over two-thirds back delayed start to the year to secure more face-to-face teaching

Almost a quarter (23%) of prospective university students fear that the university they wish to study at this year could go bust because of the Covid-19 crisis, warns a UCU survey of prospective university students.

Half (49%) fear that damage caused by funding cuts because of the pandemic will negatively impact on their education and over two-thirds (71%) back a delay to the start of term.

Youthsight polled 516 students who have applied to university this academic year (2020/21) and found:

  • 23% were moderately or very worried that that the university they wish to attend will go bust (not have enough money to operate) because of the crisis (9% were very worried)
  • 49% were moderately or very worried that the university they wish to attend will need to make cuts because of the Covid-19 crisis that will negatively impact their education (23% were very worried)
  • 71% were moderately or very supportive of moving the start of their first year of university to a later time if it meant they could have more face-to-face rather than online teaching (52% were very supportive)

Last month a London Economics report for UCU warned of a £2.5bn funding black hole as a result of a drop in the number of students coming to university in September. That report warned of a £6bn hit to the wider economy and loss of around 60,000 jobs.

UCU has called on the government to step in and underwrite funding for universities to protect the UK's academic capacity and provide stability for the sector. The union said students needed to be confident that their institution was not at risk and the quality of their education was guaranteed.

UCU said that fears over cuts, coupled with confusion over what a university education will look like in the autumn, had already had an impact on students. Polling last month revealed that around 17% more students than normal were already considering deferring their university place this year, and there was a 25% chance that students would consider changing which institution they study at. In response, some universities are telling students that they won't be able to defer.

On Monday 1 June, the Westminster government announced plans to fine universities who recruit too many students and to limit the number of students from England who can enrol at universities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is hardly surprising that students are anxious about what the future holds for universities and for their education. Given the impact this uncertainty is having on students, it is now critical that government agrees to provide increased financial backing to the sector. Students need to be confident that they will get a high quality education, despite the hugely damaging impact of the pandemic.

'Without increased support, our research has shown that thousands of jobs could go in a £6bn shock to the economy. While university staff and students will bear the brunt of this, higher education is also important to many local businesses around the UK who will be fatally damaged by this contraction.

'No university should jeopardise the safety of staff or students to try and offer a more traditional university experience in the current climate. Government needs to guarantee funding so institutions are able to make decisions which put the welfare of their staff and students first, and plan for a delayed start if this is the safest course of action.'

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