UK rejects COVID-19 bailout package for universities, announces support measures

London: The UK government has unveiled a series of support measures for universities facing financial strain as a result of the coronavirus-induced lockdown but rejected any prospect of a bailout package sought by institutions.

The package of measures announced on Monday includes bringing forward 2.6 billion pounds in tuition fee payments from the next academic year to this academic year to help with cash flow issues and confirms that students being taught online will not be entitled to refunds on their tuition fees.

“We are committed to supporting our world class universities and students through this unprecedented challenging time. So we are putting measures in place to help protect students and staff from the impact of coronavirus,” said UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

“I know this is an unsettling time for all involved, and we are working tirelessly with the sector to do everything we can to stabilise admissions and protect a vital part of our country’s economy and society,” he said.

The new measures include a student number control system in England designed to stabilise admissions and university finances. Higher education providers in the region will be able to recruit full-time undergraduate UK and European Union (EU) students for 2020-21 up to a temporary set level, based on their forecasts for the next academic year, plus an additional 5 per cent.

The government will also have the “discretion” to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services.

All the measures are aimed to allow students, who want to go to university and meet their entry requirements, to access higher education while avoiding competition among providers taking a form which would go against the interests of students and the sector, the government said.

In addition, 100 million pounds of “quality-related” research funding will be brought forward into the current academic year as immediate help to ensure research activities can continue during the crisis.

“This 100 million pounds we are bringing forward will provide immediate help to ensure the excellent research taking place in our universities continues throughout this period of uncertainty,” said UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

“I know this is a very difficult and anxious time for students, universities and higher education staff, and we are working determinedly with the sector and my counterparts across the UK, to support them during this time,” added UK Universities Minister Michelle Donelan.

University representative bodies welcomed the intervention but warned that more would be needed as the institutions struggle with finances especially due to a shortfall from international students, including from countries like India, who pay much higher tuition fees.

“The package of interventions outlined indicates a welcome recognition from government of the central role that universities will play in the recovery of the economy and communities and the urgent need to provide support for universities to weather the severe financial storm created by COVID-19,” said Prof Julia Buckingham, the President of Universities UK, which had called for a 2-billion pounds bailout package for the sector.

“Universities will want to examine and understand more fully the details of today’s announcement and then work with the government to ensure that detailed measures are developed to meet both the scale and diversity of pressures that universities are facing.

“This must include further support to protect the strength, capacity and quality of the research base and ensure the sector is positioned to support economic and social recovery through research and innovation,” she said.

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