Higher education facing coronavirus crisis, East Ham MP says ministers must ‘mitigate funding shortfall’

Last week forty-eight professional academic associations across the country sent a letter to educati

Last week forty-eight professional academic associations across the country sent a letter to education ministers to call on a 'new deal for higher education'. - Credit: PA

Academic associations across the country are calling on the government to support “a new deal for higher education” saying a temporary bailout isn’t enough to help them get through the pandemic and beyond.

The letter, sent last week to Education Ministers, points out that the sharp drop in universities’ income, as a result of a fall in student numbers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, will endanger the ability of the UK Higher Education sector to maintain excellence in education and research, with grave consequences for the economy and society.

The associations, led by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, called the current government funding model “inadequate” and said rather than providing a one-time bailout, public spending on colleges and universities needs to be increased to be in line with the 34 countries which make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

UK public spending on higher education is the lowest among OECD countries, and comprises less than half of the average spending among the OECD’s other 34 countries, making UK universities particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in income from student numbers.

Even before the pandemic nearly 25 percent of all UK universities were in deficit and are announcing job cuts and even cuts to the range of courses and subjects being offered.

A Department for Education spokesperson said it has introduced a package of measures to stabilise the admissions system and ease pressure on universities’ finances.

“We have confirmed universities’ eligibility to apply for Government-backed loan and financing packages worth at least £700m according to Office for Students estimates, along with reprofiling £100m of research funding and £2.6bn worth of tuition fee payments for providers.”

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MP for East Ham Stephen Timms said he is deeply concerned that the higher education sector is facing an unprecedented set of challenges.

He said: “A recent report by London Economics for the University and College Union showed that coronavirus and ensuing recession will likely lead to 111,000 fewer UK and 121,000 fewer international first-year students attending UK universities this year, resulting in a £2.5bn funding black hole.

“This would be disastrous.

“Without Government intervention, an estimated 30,000 university jobs are at risk, with a further 32,000 jobs under threat throughout the wider economy.”

He added that UK universities need to be valued as part of the frontline response to the pandemic since they supply students to the NHS and conduct research into the virus.

He added: “Ministers must therefore step in to support universities and mitigate their funding shortfall.”