UK universities plead for support due to COVID-19 crisis

British universities have made a plea for billions of pounds’ worth of research and bailout funding to survive the coronavirus crisis.

Institutions are at risk of losing significant amounts of money as they expect falls in international students numbers and research grants next year.

Sources at several leading universities say these financial losses will be on top of the lost income from conferences, accommodation and catering that will be drained to £790m from the sector by the end of summer.

Sally Mapstone, University of St Andrews’ principal, warned her staff on Thursday that the university had already lost £25m as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis, which would force it into significant cost-cutting.

She said: “It is as serious a financial crisis as our university has faced in modern times, and it will mean that we cannot do everything you want or expect us to, and that we have to take some very difficult decisions about our future.”

The proposal by UUK, representing 137 institutions, gave dire warnings of the financial difficulties in which many universities find themselves, with campuses shut and students abruptly leaving.

Mapstone added: “Without government support, some universities would face financial failure, others would come close to financial failure and be forced to reduce provision.

“Some will be in places where they are the only local higher education provider with damaging impact on the local community and economy.”

In response to the crisis, Universities UK (UUK) has proposed a series of measures to the government that would double research funding and offer emergency loans to struggling institutions, as well as placing a cap on the number of undergraduates many institutions can recruit in 2020-21.

The government will embrace UUK’s public support for limiting student recruitment, which would reduce its losses from unpaid student loans.

Institutions promise to limit student intake and cut spending in return for bailout funding (Photo credit: Pixabay)

The proposal would result in universities in England and Wales temporarily capping their UK and EU undergraduate intake they have already submitted, plus a maximum increase of 5%. 

Students already holding firm conditional offers will be guaranteed their places if they meet their grade requirements.

The UUK scheme includes reducing costs, increasing efficiency and moderating certain practices such as curbing unconditional offers, as well as delaying capital spending and freezing recruitment.

It also calls for a “transformation fund” to “reshape and consolidate” the sector through mergers.

It also seeks to doubling quality-related government research funding from £2bn to £4bn a year, as well as assistance for universities relying on “very high numbers” of international students. Others include giving universities unrestricted access to the UK government’s coronavirus business support programmes.

UUK warned that the loss of valuable international student fees would end the ability of universities to cross-subsidise expensive science and technology research.

Alistair Jarvis, UUK’s chief executive, said this plea is well-reasoned as British universities were likely to go bankrupt without further support: “There is a very significant chance of some institutions going bust – and part of this proposal is to prevent that from happening.”

Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has been contacted to give a comment about this issue.

By Olimpia Zagnat

Feature photo credit: Pixabay

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