News round-up: Universities receive record number of applications during lockdown, but many are pushing ahead with cuts

Ucas recently announced that UK universities had received a record number of applications over the lockdown period, despite growing concerns about the impacts of coronavirus on the higher education sector. Many universities are pushing ahead with devastating cuts, and comments from the Universities Minister have sparked a debate about the value of humanities subjects.

Latest from CDBU: ‘The Covid-19 Crisis and the Future of Tertiary Education: a Green Paper from the University of Greenwich’ – 03/07/2020

This paper was kindly contributed by Dr Jane Lethbridge and Professor Patrick Ainley from the University of Greenwich.

It is the fourth in our series titled ‘Manifestos for Change’, in which we are seeking forward-thinking responses to the present Covid-19 crisis, and the crisis of marketisation more generally. If you have created a similar proposal for your institution, and would like it to be included in this series, please email

Portsmouth University sticks by English Literature cuts – BBC News, 30/06/2020

Planned staff cuts in the University of Portsmouth’s English Literature department are set to go ahead, despite calls to reconsider amid the coronavirus pandemic. The university is proposing reducing the department from 12 full-time posts to five. Students have claimed it would be “catastrophic”, and there have been calls for the cuts to be put on hold.

British Philosophical Association pens open letter over the closure of philosophy programme at UWE – 26/06/2020

The University of West of England Bristol (UWE) appears to have decided to cancel its successful BA Philosophy degree, without consultation and without any clear rationale. The programme, which is financially viable, popular with students, and scores very well in the NSS, is well known for promoting European philosophy. Its threatened closure is very mysterious.

  • Featuring James Ladyman’s piece for CDBU, which can be read here.

Bradford College: 107 jobs to go due to coronavirus cuts – BBC news, 25/06/2020

Bradford College said it had “been unable to secure any provider relief funding to support the fall”. FE Week magazine reported the college had a bid for financial support rejected by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). The college said it had to make savings of £1.5m and unions were being consulted over 107 job losses.

Job losses at Edinburgh University planned as part of cost-cutting – The Scotsman, 03/07/2020

Staff at Edinburgh University are set for a nervous wait after principal and vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson announced the university is set to reduce staffing costs through voluntary redundancy and pay freezes. In May, the Evening News reported that the university faced a £150 million financial black hole, but in an email to staff sent on Thursday, Professor Mathieson announced that jobs are now at risk. Staff were already reeling from an email sent last week, seen by the Evening News, detailing plans for a six-day work week, with teaching hours extended to 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.

‘Dumbed down’ university courses unfair to students, says minister – The Telegraph, 02/07/2020

Universities have been attacked for “dumbing down” courses, with the higher education minister saying they are taking advantage of young people. Michelle Donelan said universities were recruiting school leavers on to courses that did nothing to improve their life chances or help them achieve their career aspirations. Speaking on the National Education Opportunities Network, she said young people had been let down by New Labour’s drive to increase graduate numbers.

PM issues warning on degree value – Times Higher Education, 30/06/2020

Too many courses in universities “are not now delivering value”, Boris Johnson said, as he signalled that further education would be prioritised when the government bids to rebuild the UK economy after the coronavirus pandemic. In a speech delivered at a college of technology in Dudley, setting out plans for the economy to “bounce back better”, the prime minister said that “for a century we have failed to invest enough in further education and give young people the practical training and further education they need”.

REPORT: Qualified for the Future: quantifying demand for arts, humanities and social science skills – The British Academy

This report provides evidence for the tangible benefits of skills developed in the arts, humanities and social sciences to the UK workforce, economy and society, not only now but in the future. The arts, humanities and social sciences will be vital in building the society we want to live in, with individuals able to tackle the challenges we face and shape the future. These subjects give us the tools to examine and explain human behaviour, understand how society functions, learn from the past and apply those lessons to the present, and analyse the drivers and implications of a changing world and how different countries, places and cultures interact.

See also: Germany enlists humanities scholars to end coronavirus lockdown – World Economic Forum

Latest government support package fails to put students and staff at the centre of recovery plans – UCU, 27/06/2020

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘This latest announcement from the government fails to put students and staff at the centre of its recovery plans. While there is some new money in the form of a grant to research-intensive universities, the rest of the package consists of loans and repackaged existing spending commitments. The proposals barely mention students other than to make clear that universities who focus most on teaching will receive little of the new money now available. The failure to properly support the sector means that casual staff and those from BAME backgrounds will suffer the most as universities lose academic capacity and seek to get rid of staff. This is an insult to staff who responded so impressively keeping institutions open and students learning.’

Don’t casualise academics, says OECD – Times Higher Education, 29/06/2020

One of the world’s most influential policy thinktanks has warned universities against shifting academics on to short-term or zero-hour contracts, in a report that argues universities are all but out of money-saving options as they struggle to cope with pandemic-induced hits to private and public income. In advice aimed at governments mulling how to fund higher education in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also cautioned that online teaching was just as expensive as in-person instruction.

Dear REF, please may we have a SEP? – WonkHE, 1/07/2020

Unlike REF, the Dutch system is not linked to funding. This makes a huge difference. And the resulting freedom from feeling like one false move could plummet your institution into financial and reputational ruin is devoutly to be wished. There have been many claims – particularly at the advent of COVID-19 – that the REF should be abandoned and some kind of FTE-based or citation-based alternative used to distribute funds. Of course the argument was quickly made that REF is not just about gold, it’s about glory, and many other things besides. Now I’m no expert on research funding, and this piece is not primarily about that. But I can’t help thinking, what if REF WAS just about gold?

UK universities receive record number of applications in lockdown – The Guardian, 09/07/2020

A record 40.5% of all 18-year-olds in the UK have applied to go to university, with numbers rising significantly during lockdown, according to the university admissions service Ucas. It is the first time that more than four out of 10 students (40.5%) had applied by 30 June to go to university and the figures will offer some comfort to universities bracing themselves for the Covid-19 aftershock.

Scottish universities see rise in international applicants – BBC News, 09/07/2020

The number of people from countries outside Europe who have applied for a place at a Scottish university has gone up despite the coronavirus pandemic. The 16% rise is revealed in figures from the university admissions service UCAS. But universities say they will not know for several weeks just how many people will actually take up their places.

Harvard and M.I.T. Sue to Stop Trump Visa Rules for Foreign Students – New York Times, 08/07/2020

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration in federal court on Wednesday, seeking to block a directive that would strip foreign college students of their visas if the courses they take this fall are entirely online. University leaders and immigrant advocates called the new policy cruel and reckless, with several education groups saying they planned to join the legal battle. The Massachusetts attorney general vowed to support Harvard and M.I.T.’s efforts to block the rules, which were announced Monday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Tories ‘tear up’ English target for half of young to enter HE – Times Higher Education, 09/07/2020

Gavin Williamson has billed himself as “tearing up” the target for 50 per cent of young people in England to enter higher education and signalled a rebalancing of the country’s post-18 education system towards further and technical education. In a speech on 9 July, the education secretary confirmed plans for a White Paper “that will set out our plans to build a world-class, German-style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities”.

Payback time: academic’s plan to launch Free Black University in UK The Guardian, 27/06/2020

After listening to the experiences of black students, Owusu began to see the problem was that universities are “built on colonisation – the money, buildings, architecture – everything is colonial”. This sparked the idea of a Free Black University to “redistribute knowledge” and place black students and a decolonised curriculum at its heart, rather than as an add-on. A GoFundMe campaign launched to finance the project has raised more than £60,000 since being set up this month, and won backing from both the University and College Union and National Union of Students.

If more students choose home over halls, it’s time to celebrate – The Guardian, 30/06/2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing many young people in the UK to re-evaluate their educational choices. While it seems would-be students are not being deterred from university as much as was feared, it is likely many will opt to commute from home, shunning the challenges – and the cost – of sharing kitchens and bathrooms in university accommodation. The stay-at-home trend was accelerating even before Covid-19. Yet these students still fall beneath the radar. Some universities are even sniffy about those who decline the “full” campus experience.

The government plan for humanities and social sciences does not serve Australia’s future – ADI, 02/07/2020

Proposed changes to the fee structure of some university courses by the Hon Minister for Education Dan Tehan are short-sighted and destructive for the future of Australia. The proposed changes target, in particular, humanities and social sciences without any justification or prior discussion and debate with industry or the higher education sector. The changes put at serious risk Australia’s capacity to cope with the challenges of the future, and thrive in the 21st century. Students should not be penalised for studying courses in the humanities and social sciences (HASS) when these areas of study have proven critical to Australia’s push towards a knowledge economy and its success in navigating a complex range of global, regional and national challenges.

Juggling childcare with academia: female experiences in lockdown – Times Higher Education, 26/06/2020

Many of the female academics Times Higher Education spoke to said they felt “in limbo”, trying to stay on top of administrative or teaching tasks but unable to do much more – particularly research, which is so vital for a career in academia. Another explained that the uncertainty wrought by lockdown had affected her future planning for starting a family, while another said she also had to care for elderly relatives.

Big Tech companies have got universities in their sights – The Telegraph, 06/07/2020

Coronavirus-induced online learning could be the catalyst for Silicon Valley to enter the education market. In any normal summer, millions of teenagers would be preparing to leave home for the first time, move to a cramped hall of residence on-campus and shuffle into cavernous lecture halls as university students. But come the autumn, they will be stuck taking those classes on Zoom – if they start their studies at all.