News round-up: Grim times for universities as overseas students stay away and staff on fixed-term contracts lose their jobs

The coronavirus epidemic has seen lecturers and researchers lose their jobs while students face uncertainty over exams  

119 universities in deficit after lecturers go on strike

The Times, 03/04/2020, Rosemary Bennett

More than 100 universities, including some of the richest, have plunged into deficit after they had to find thousands of pounds to cover the cost of lecturers’ pensions.

Official figures show 119 universities, or two thirds, ended the last academic year in the red compared with 32 the year before.

See also: University finance concerns amid rising deficits and collapse in overseas student numbers (Daily Telegraph, 03/04/2020, Camilla Turner)

Coronavirus: UK PhD students urge automatic funding extensions

Times Higher Education, 03/04/2020, Jack Grove

Thousands of PhD students have called for a blanket extension to their scholarships and funding to reflect the “severe impact” to their research caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which has been signed by more than 3,000 postgraduate research students, the £7 billion-a-year research funding body is asked to “guarantee an automatic funding extension for all postgraduate students (both master’s and PhD level) for as long as the crisis and university closures continue”.

Most prospective overseas students ‘not shifting plans’

Times Higher Education, 03/04/2020, Ellie Bothwell

The majority of prospective international students have not yet changed their study plans because of the coronavirus outbreak, but those who have are split on whether to postpone their studies or enrol in an online course, according to research.

A survey from StudyPortals found that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of prospective overseas students who had planned to start courses within the next six months were continuing with the same study plans.

Most UK university applicants ‘still want to study this autumn’

Times Higher Education, 03/04/2020, Ellie Bothwell

Almost nine out of 10 undergraduate applicants in the UK are still looking to start university this autumn despite the disruption caused by coronavirus, according to a new study.

A survey from Ucas and YouthSight found that 86 per cent of A-level students were continuing with their university application as planned. Just five per cent said they were planning on sitting their exams again in the autumn.

Hundreds of university staff to be made redundant due to coronavirus

The Guardian, 02/04/2020, David Batty

Hundreds of university staff on precarious contracts have been dismissed by their employers in a drive to cut costs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff on fixed-term contracts, including visiting lecturers, researchers and student support workers, at Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex universities have been made redundant or told their employment will or may end prematurely, or not be renewed.

Universities face crushing blow as overseas students stay away

The Times, 02/04/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Universities face a hole in their finances this autumn as the overwhelming majority of international students choose not to take their places.

Only one in seven overseas graduates and undergraduates due to study in Britain still plans to come, a study has found, leaving many universities on a “knife edge”. Most will defer their enrolment until September 2021, although some will study in another country.

UK students’ union calls on universities to cancel summer exams

The Guardian, 02/04/2020, David Batty and Sally Weale

The National Union of Students has called on universities to cancel or postpone this summer’s exams to avoid further stress and disruption to students’ lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

The NUS said disabled, international and poorer students would be significantly disadvantaged if universities go through with plans to hold online exams and assessments next term.

Imperial College London, university at centre of virus strategy, attacked over exams

The Times, 01/04/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Students at a university shaping the UK’s coronavirus strategy are in revolt over its “punitive” decision to press ahead with exams during the crisis.

Undergraduates from Imperial College London said that the science-focused university was putting “bragging rights” before students’ interests by carrying on as usual.

Coronavirus: University students in Bristol staging ‘rent strike’

BBC, 31/03/2020, Anon

University students in Bristol are staging a “rent strike” due to the coronavirus pandemic impacting on their ability to pay for accommodation.

A total of 120 students are withholding their final rent payments and are campaigning to have them cancelled or heavily reduced.

Cambridge finalists will be given ‘safety net’ in exams as university insists it is not ‘dumbing down’ degrees 

Daily Telegraph, 31/03/2020, Camilla Turner

Cambridge University finalists will be given a “safety net” in their exams as the institution insists it is not “dumbing down” degrees due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the first time in the university’s 800 year history, exams will largely be completed online rather than by hand.

Concern for A-level students over cap on university admissions

The Guardian, 30/03/2020, Sally Weale

School leaders are urging the government to ensure A-level students who have had their exams cancelled this summer because of the Covid-19 crisis do not face further disadvantage by losing university places because of a cap on student numbers.

The warning came after the Guardian revealed that strict limits on the number of students each university in England can recruit are likely to be imposed by the government to create more stability and avoid an admissions free-for-all as the sector struggles to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Government set to cap university admissions amid Covid-19 chaos

The Guardian, 29/03/2020, Richard Adams

Strict limits on the number of students that each university in England can recruit are set to be imposed by the government in an effort to avoid a free-for-all on admissions, with institutions plunged into financial turmoil as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian has learned.

A government source said each university would face limits on the number of UK and EU undergraduates it could admit for the academic year starting in September, in a move backed by higher education leaders. It will be the first such limit since the university admission cap was lifted in 2015.

‘Teach boys what is sexist or they’ll fall foul of #MeToo on campus’

Sunday Times, 29/03/2020, Sian Griffiths

Once it was the birds and bees for younger children. Now the subjects are groping and the types of joke that could ruin your life.

Parents must give boys lessons in how to behave around girls if they are to avoid getting into serious trouble at university, where the #MeToo culture is gaining ground, according to an adviser brought in to tackle discrimination.

Half of academics leaving UK are EU citizens

Times Higher Education, 28/03/2020

Almost half of all the academics leaving UK universities to work overseas in 2018 were European Union citizens, according to the latest data.

The figures, for the year to December 2018, show that more than 1,000 EU citizens working as academics left a UK university to go abroad, 550 of whom went to work in an institution in another country.      

Coronavirus: Students told to pay up for empty flats

BBC, 28/03/ Michael Shiels McNamee

Some students in private rental accommodation have been left paying for properties they are no longer staying in after their classes were cancelled due to coronavirus.

Ulster University and Queen’s University have said students can terminate rental agreements at halls run by them.

University students in England told not to travel home

Times Higher Education, 27/03/2020, Ellie Bothwell

Students at English universities have been urged by the government to stay put and not attempt to travel, while overseas students and staff have been assured that expired visas will be extended.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said that students who are still living in student halls or private rented accommodation “should remain there and stay indoors while current restrictions are in force”.

Coronavirus shines spotlight on science advice system in UK

Times Higher Education, 26/03/2020, Simon Baker

A major spotlight has been thrown on the way scientific advice is being given to and used by the UK government after it dramatically changed tack in the battle against the coronavirus outbreak.

The UK’s approach suddenly moved up a gear on 16 March and was followed by five days of ramping up interventions including school closures, the shutting of pubs and restaurants and social distancing advice.

Hundreds of thousands of UK students call for tuition fee refunds

The Guardian, 25/03/2020, Sally Weale, Rachel Hall and Richard Adams

Hundreds of thousands of students whose lives have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic have signed a petition calling for tuition fee refunds. Many students are also facing demands from landlords on many UK campuses for ongoing rent on their vacated rooms.

An online petition to parliament for reimbursement of this year’s fees, posted this week by a geography undergraduate at the University of Liverpool, had gathered nearly 250,000 signatures by Wednesday evening.

OfS’ new emphasis on financial sustainability welcomed

Times Higher Education, 25/03/2020, Jack Grove

The Office for Students’ (OfS) decision to support universities’ “financial sustainability” in light of the coronavirus crisis has been welcomed as “apt” and “sensible” by sector leaders who believe the episode may lead to a “recalibrated attitude” towards institutions.

In what is viewed as a departure from its previous policy of refusing to prop up higher education institutions in economic distress, England’s higher education regulator informed the sector last week that it would act to “support financial sustainability” during and after the pandemic, opening the door to potential bailouts of heavily affected institutions.

University students campaign for refund as they say remote learning should not cost £9,250-per-year

Daily Telegraph, 25/03/2020, Camilla Turner and Claudia Rowan

University students have started a campaign to have their tuition fees refunded as they say that remote learning should not cost up to £9,250-per-year.

Over 235,000 students have signed a petition demanding that they are reimbursed for this academic year’s fees.

University student faces investigation after attending party dressed as Holocaust victim 

Daily Telegraph, 25/03/2020, Camilla Turner and Claudia Rowan

A university student faces an investigation after attending a party dressed as a Holocaust victim from a concentration camp.

Sam Farrell, the Student Union (SU) president-elect at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, wore striped pyjamas, with the numbers 38451 pinned to his chest, to the fancy dress event last year. He also wore a skin-coloured cap over his head to make it look as though his hair had been shaved off.

University students urged to act in ‘national interest’ and work as fruit pickers this summer

Daily Telegraph, 24/03/2020, Camilla Turner

University students have been urged to act in the “national interest” and sign up to work as fruit pickers this summer.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), has called on students to put their long summer vacation to good use by picking strawberries and raspberries.

Thousands of students stranded at university amid UK lockdown

The Guardian, 24/03/2020, Sally Weale

Thousands of students are stranded in universities across the UK as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting calls for support from vice-chancellors.

Among them are international students from all over the world who have been unable to get flights home, and UK students who are stuck because they have no other home to go to, either because they are care leavers or are estranged from their families.

Universities warned to stop making unconditional offers to boost student numbers

Daily Telegraph, 24/03/2020, Camilla Turner

Universities have been warned to stop making unconditional offers to boost student numbers as ministers say this is “destabilising” the admissions system.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, has ordered admissions tutors to halt the practise of offering giving places away to students irrespective of their grades.