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UK unis face £2.5bn “black hole”, those relying on int’l students hit hardest

The UK Treasury will is still deciding on how to respond to UUK's request for a HE bailout. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"A total of approximately 231,895 students will no longer enrol in UK higher education in 2020-21"

The UK’s higher education sector has warned the British government that if they do not step in to support universities and help with the financial consequences of Covid-19, there will be job losses, huge cuts and the halting of important research.

Meanwhile, some institutions have told The PIE that they are postponing start dates for the 2020/21 academic year to try and mitigate some potential losses in new international enrolments.

“University staff and students are now staring over the edge of a cliff”

According to the latest report, carried out by London Economics for UCU, universities likely to be hit hardest by the falls in fee and grant income are those that cater for significant numbers of international students.

An estimated 30,000 university jobs are at risk, with a further 32,000 jobs under threat throughout the wider economy, if the government does not intervene.  

“This alarming report shows that university staff and students are now staring over the edge of a cliff and desperately need the government to step in and protect the sector,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady in a statement. 

“Our world-renowned universities are doing crucial work now as we hunt for a vaccine and will be vital engines for our recovery both nationally and in towns and cities across the UK. 

Grady said it is vital that the government underwrites funding lost from the fall in student numbers. “These are unprecedented times and without urgent guarantees, our universities will be greatly damaged at just the time they are needed most,” commented Grady.

By combining the impact of the economic downturn and the expected deferral rate, the report predicts that compared to baseline (i.e. 2018-19) first-year enrolments, a total of approximately 231,895 students will no longer enrol in UK higher education in 2020-21- equivalent to approximately 24% of the baseline cohort. 

Source: London Economics

Universities UK highlighted the issue of a drop in student numbers earlier this month, warning that a 100% fall in fee income from international (Non-EU and EU) students would result in a £6.9 billion loss of income to the UK higher education sector.

It proposed a £2 billion package of measures to the UK government, to protect the HE sector from the fallout of the virus, which included doubling this year’s research funding to plug the gap for a predicted shortfall of £790 million in the 2019-20 academic year. 

“Universities will be forced to make “huge” cuts, jobs will be lost, vital research will be halted”

While the government is yet to respond to UUK’s proposals, the FT reported that Whitehall officials said the early signs were that the Treasury is not receptive to what is viewed as universities’ special pleading.

Despite this, UUK told The PIE News that the package of suggested measures is with government and constructive discussions are continuing involving a number of departments.

A UUK spokesperson said that if the government does refuse to provide institutions with support, universities will be forced to make “huge” cuts, jobs will be lost, vital research will be halted. 

“Regional skills gaps will worsen and most importantly students will suffer, including through reduced access to higher education and fewer opportunities for disadvantaged students,” they told The PIE.

“It will also mean universities’ positive impact on the economy and communities and capacity to help drive the UK’s economic recovery post Covid-19 will be severely diminished.”

The dependence of UK universities on international students, was explored in a House of Commons briefing paper which noted that the UK HE sector had almost half a million international students in 2018/19. 

This was 20% of the 2.4 million students at UK universities. China is by far the largest source of international students with just over 120,000 in 2018/19. The next largest was India with just under 27,000 and the US with around 20,000.

Some institutions have particularly large numbers of international students;  for example in 2018/19, seven institutions had student bodies that were 50% or more international students. 

Source: HESA, Where do students come from?

University of the Arts London is one of these seven institutions, and is trying to help international students cope with obstacles such as travel restrictions, as best they can. 

UAL told The PIE that it was going to delay the start of the next academic year 2020/21 so that new and returning students have sufficient time to make arrangements to start or return to study. 

“UAL is keen to do all it can to help students who want to study with us next year, to do so,” a spokesperson said.

“We recognise that the coronavirus outbreak is making it harder for students to make detailed travel plans, and for our international students to apply for visas, fulfil language testing and some other requirements.”

The autumn term at UAL will now begin on October 19, 2020, meaning that dates across the academic year have changed to accommodate the later start.  

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3 Responses to UK unis face £2.5bn “black hole”, those relying on int’l students hit hardest

  1. At some point not that long ago, universities became businesses (operating a cartel, I might add!) selling globally rather than being institutions set up purely to educate the UK population.

    I suppose it was a smart move – we have a good university set-up, fine buildings, tuition in the lingua-franca of English. But there were always inherent risks (for example, Dutch universities offering English-medium degrees for a fraction of the price).

    Now they are facing the problem that businesses occasionally confront – a sudden drop in demand. It is not the government’s place to bail them out.

    They have been feasting on home and international students’ fees and often giving quite a poor service (certainly in terms of contact time) for many years. Now there will probably be a shake-out.

  2. Your problem. When I was at University 55 years ago 98% of uni students were local and the International students were mostly ex pat students. Even then there were not enough vacancies to cater for everyone in town. So if you people want to rely on income from outside of your country be prepared for these big black holes instead of paying yourselves huge sums if money called remuneration. Seriously I have no sympathy for you ,especially when you charge these students £750 for living in a shoe box with no flexibility during a pandemic.

  3. UK HE have been resting on their laurels for too long
    They have not offered any kind of special Top quality service for international students nor demonstrated how much they are appreciated
    This is their come uppance and they deserve everything they get
    Deliver a top quality service and the students will come back

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