Higher education facing crisis without ‘a new deal’ but Havering MPs say funding needs to be targeted

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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Julia Lopez, MP for Hornchurch and Upminster and Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford said they supported the economic measures the government put forward, including the £2.6 billion support package of tuition fee payments and £100 million in research funding which has reduced some of the immediate pressures facing universities.

Mrs Lopez said government intervention to support universities needs to be carefully targeted.

She acknowledged that it was a “fast-moving situation and the government will be continuing to review universities’ financial circumstances to see what other support might be necessary going forward.”

Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham said: “This is a prime opportunity for the government to make a commitment on university funding which was stretched thin even before the pandemic.”

Mr Cruddas added that the priority should be investing in the NHS and care sectors and environmental protections.

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