Higher education facing coronavirus crisis, Ilford MPs say 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.

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Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said the letter sent to ministers “clearly shows how a one-size fits all approach to economic support won’t do and the Government needs to make sure that our global standing in higher education doesn’t suffer as a result of Covid-19.

“Our universities are global leaders in research and teaching and face a serious funding crisis.”

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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.”

Ilford South MP Sam Tarry said: “It is vital that this government steps in to support universities to mitigate their funding shortfall and lessen the impact that Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has had.

“UK universities must be valued as part of the frontline response to the coronavirus pandemic, supplying students to the NHS and conducting world-class research into the virus, and recognised for the role they can play in their local economies in terms of retraining and reskilling their local workers during any recovery from the pandemic.”

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