News round-up: Universities fear the worst after government refuses multi-billion bailout

The government’s rejection of the multi-billion pound bailout needed to save universities has raised serious concerns for the future of higher education. Voluntary severance schemes have been introduced, graduate prospects look bleak, and the shift to online learning could see the poorest students left behind.

Government refuses multi-billion pound bailout for universities The Guardian, Richard Adams, 4/05/2020

‘Universities’ hopes of a long-term government bailout in England have been dashed, though £2.6bn in tuition fees will be paid early and ministers pledged to allow full fees to be charged even if students were unable to return to lecture theatres.’

Government package for universities doesn’t provide protection the sector needsUCU, 3/05/2020

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘While it is encouraging that the government appears to have recognised the need to provide support for universities, this package does not deliver the protection or stability that students, staff and the communities they serve so desperately need.’

‘The student number cap is a misnomer as it will enable the wealthiest universities to substantially grow their domestic student base at the expense of other more locally-focussed institutions. We cannot afford to let this dog-eat-dog approach risk substantial damage both to our country’s academic capacity and local economies which universities are such an important part of. 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.’

WONKHE analysis of Government support packageWonkhe, Debbie McVitty, 03/05/2020

The support package announced this morning for universities falls far short of what would be required to genuinely safeguard the sector and students and catalyse their contribution to future economic recovery. At the same time, the assumptions underpinning the package, and the conditions attached to it, put a pin in the prospect of real creative thinking about the future of the sector.

Students to pay full tuition fees even if universities are shut The Times, Rosemary Bennett, 04/05/2020

Students will have to pay full tuition fees of £9,250 this autumn even if universities cannot open and courses are taught online. Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “We have already seen, over the last few months, courses being delivered online and virtually to an amazing degree of quality, and I know the efforts made across the sector to facilitate that”.

“We’ve always said that we don’t believe students would be entitled to reimbursement for tuition fees if the quality is there.”

Guidance on refunds applies to students, says CMA Pie News, Will Nott, 05/05/2020

Guidance by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority that says consumers could be given partial refunds for services missed because of Covid-19 has led some in the sector to question if this means students at UK universities will be able to claim refunds for tuition fees under consumer protection law.

A press spokesperson for the CMA confirmed to The PIE News that this guidance would apply to students, including both international and domestic students at UK universities. 

If universities shift online, we risk more poorer students dropping out The Guardian, Chris Skidmore, 04/05/2020

Remote learning must not allow these groups of students to become ever more remote. A 2017 study showed that students from disadvantaged backgrounds “consistently perform worse in an online setting than they do in face-to-face classrooms”. The study added that taking online courses increases their likelihood of dropping out and stalls their progress.

See also: Promises and pitfalls of online educationBrookings, Eric Bettinger and Susanna Loeb

£75 million boost for Scottish University ResearchGov.Scot, 06/05/2020

The Scottish Government has announced a one-off £75 million increase in funding for Scotland’s universities to ensure they can protect their world-leading research programmes against the financial impact of COVID-19.

The significant intervention will help secure the jobs and training needed to support ongoing and future research work, meaning institutions can concentrate fully on planning the long-term future of a sector so vital to the Scottish economy.

See also: ‘Scottish funding boost for universities highlights need for urgent support from Westminster’, UCU

Thousands of Edinburgh University staff face pay freeze and furloughEdinburgh Evening News, Noa Hoffman, 05/05/2020

Thousands of staff at Edinburgh University will be told they face salary freezes and being placed on furlough as the institution confronts a £150m a year black hole caused by the Covid crisis.

In an email due to be sent to over 15,000 members of staff, seen by the Evening News, university Principal Peter Mathieson has warned the institution will need to undergo an aggressive cost-cutting programme just to survive. University modelling predicts a loss of income of £70 million – £150 million next year alone, with losses to continue for at least the next four to five years too.

SOAS face ‘viability problems’ amid pandemic crisis Times Higher Education, Anna McKie, 06/05/2020

SOAS University of London will have to implement “painful” measures, including job cuts, as it battles “viability problems” caused by its already precarious financial position being worsened by the coronavirus crisis.

In an email to staff on 6 May, seen by Times Higher Education, Graham Upton, in his second week as SOAS’ interim director, said that previous “recurrent deficits have posed a severe threat to our long-term financial sustainability”.

Roehampton is ‘first UK university to announce crisis job severances’Times Higher Education, Anna McKie, 07/05/2020

Staff at the University of Roehampton are “devastated” by the institution’s voluntary severance scheme, which makes it the first UK university to firmly announce job reductions for permanent staff in response to the pandemic crisis.

Academic staff at the university were told that the plans, understood to aim at cutting 70 jobs, were required to mitigate the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis on the university.

New on the CDBU blog: ‘Cooling the crisis’ CDBU, John Holmwood, 14/05/2020

If we wish to change the model, to have higher educations serve the public, students and academics, and not as a Ponzi scheme floated on a bubble of student fees, we need to act now. We need to stay alert, engage with the financial difficulties with positive and pragmatic solutions, flatten the curve of the crisis and save universities.

Why the new student number cap is unworkable HEPI, Bahram Bekhradnia, 05/05/2020

The Government’s introduction of controls over the freedom of universities to recruit students ad lib brings to an end the short-lived experiment in a demand-led market-driven higher education system – and with it, it seems the raison d’être of the Office for Students and certainly its modus operandi.

Now, the health of the sector is to be protected – and to rub the point in, it is notable that the Government has not asked the Office for Students to implement the new requirements but the Student Loans Company.

New graduates likely to be hit hardest by recession brought on by lockdown, IFS warnsIndependent, Conrad Duncan, 18/04/2020

Graduates entering the labour market this year are likely to be hit hardest by the developing recession brought on by measures to control the spread of coronavirus, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The IFS has warned evidence from previous recessions suggests young people graduating this year are likely to find it harder to find employment and even harder to find well-paid employment than their immediate predecessors. If the economy struggles to recover quickly, they may also earn less than they would have previously expected for a considerable period of time.

Gavin Williamson set to face legal challenge amid claims children are being denied right to education during lockdownIndependent, Vincent Wood, 21/04/2020

Education secretary Gavin Williamson is set to face a legal challenge after claims he has failed to do enough to make sure an estimated one million children across the country have everything they need to access education during lockdown.

Schools across the country returned for summer term this week despite classrooms for the most part remaining empty – with the majority of the nation’s pupils learning through online portals and video lessons.

Mergers and ‘FE future’ predicted for some English universitiesTimes Higher Education, Jack Grove, 11/05/2020

English universities at risk of financial collapse will receive significant government assistance only if they agree to merge or to accept a “further education future”, vice-chancellors have predicted.

While some university leaders are optimistic that last week’s raft of measures, including the advance payment of £2.6 billion in tuition fees and £100 million of research funding, was an interim “stability package” ahead of a larger bailout for institutions, others are less confident.

Chinese students in UK ‘report increased racism and discrimination’ Times Higher Education, Anna McKie, 07/05/2020

Overseas students from China are experiencing racism and discrimination following the outbreak of the coronavirus, researchers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland have found, prompting warnings over potential lasting damage to internationalisation in the nations’ universities.

Women’s research plummets during lockdown – but articles from men increaseThe Guardian, Anna Fazackerley, 12/05/2020

In April Dr Elizabeth Hannon, deputy editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, noticed that the number of article submissions she was receiving from women had dropped dramatically. Not so from men. “Negligible number of submissions to the journal from women in the last month,” she posted on Twitter. “Never seen anything like it.”

“I was taken aback by the nerve I seem to have hit,” she says. “I have now heard many stories from women of abandoned projects, collaborations they have felt unable to continue with, and so on. It’s extremely worrying, especially so for philosophy, which already has so much work to do in terms of gender equality among its ranks.”

Unions tell staff ‘not to engage’ with with plan for 1 June school openingsThe Guardian, Sally Weale, 12/05/2020

Government plans to reopen schools in England face a mounting backlash from education unions, who say the proposals are not feasible and have advised teachers and support staff not to “engage with” preparations for a 1 June return.

The Department for Education (DfE) wants children back in primary schools in a phased reopening starting next month, with class sizes limited to 15 and a staggered timetable to limit the number of pupils and risk of transmission.

Landmark report on the last decade of UK postgraduate educationHEPI, Dr Ginevra House, 14/05/2020

Looking at how the UK postgraduate landscape has changed since the last similar report was published a decade ago, the new report uses previously unpublished data to reveal the state of UK postgraduate education in the years before the Covid-19 crisis struck. Compared to the past, a higher proportion of postgraduates are female, studying full-time and young.

The analysis also considers how postgraduate education was affected by the great recession of 2008, when many people sought to gain more education in the face of economic challenges. Those who already had postgraduate qualifications also fared better than others in the labour market.

UK postgraduate sector’s reliance on Chinese students spotlightedTimes Higher Education, Anna McKie, 14/05/2020

The HEPI report shows that the majority of the international postgraduate students in the UK are Chinese, who made up 38 per cent of the non-EU postgraduate cohort in 2017-18. Chinese student numbers have risen by 21 per cent since 2014-15.

There are fears that the pandemic crisis will precipitate a huge drop in the number of Chinese enrolling in the UK next year.

WATCH: Petitions Committee considers impact of Covid-19 on students Youtube, 07/05/2020

In response to the following petition: Reimburse all students of this year’s fees due to strikes and COVID-19