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UUK proposes delay to new immigration system to help counter “serious challenges”

UUK has proposed a delay to the new immigration system, flexibility on English language and other requirements for visa applications for 2020 starts and significant research funding support among a raft of measures aimed to shore up stability in UKHE.
April 10 2020
3 Min Read

Universities UK has proposed a package of measures to the British government that would enable universities to play a critical role in rebuilding the nation following the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that the £95 billion that universities generate for the UK economy will be greatly reduced without mitigations and support.

Targeted support for a small number of institutions that have very high numbers of international student numbers

The organisation believes UK universities are facing a shortfall of £790 million in the 2019-20 academic year, given loss of income from accommodation, catering and conferences in the final term and Easter and summer vacations.

For the 2020 academic year, it warns of further major financial risks – explaining a total loss of international student fee income in that year would be a £6.9 billion loss.

The measures include a broad spectrum of recommendations but those most pertinent to international education and research are:

  • Introduce additional flexibilities in the visa system to support international students planning to start courses this autumn including allowing those students already here to switch visa category in country (extending current arrangements beyond 31st May) and flexibility on English language and other requirements for visa applications, where these cannot be provided due to the closure of testing centres or disruption to examinations.
  • Stabilise demand from EU students by delaying the introduction of the new immigration system for EU students for students starting in the 2021 calendar year. Hold fee/ loan arrangements for EU students as they are for one further year.
  • Targeted support for a very small number of institutions that because of their distinct missions have  very high numbers of international student numbers.
  • Increasing QR funding by 100% for 2020-21 to maintain the UK’s research excellence
  • The full economic cost of research to be funded through government grants including those from UKRI and the National Institute for Health Research.
  • A transformation fund to support universities over the next two to three years to reshape and consolidate through federations and partnerships or potentially merge with other higher education institutions, further education colleges or private providers.

As part of the package of measures, UUK said the sector will “reduce costs, increase efficiency and moderate certain behaviours to increase stability and sustainability”.

It said that universities recognise that even with government investment significant action to reduce costs is necessary and are already making efforts to reduce costs as much as possible.

“For example, through tight controls on procurement, delaying capital projects and freezing recruitment,” UUK added.

“The package of measures we have proposed today will support universities across all four nations of the UK to ensure that they remain able to weather the very serious financial challenges posed by COVID-19,” said UUK chief executive, Alistair Jarvis in a statement.

He referred to the recently launched #WeAreTogether campaign, designed showcase the ways universities are helping the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Universities have already made a huge contribution to the national effort to fight COVID-19 and moving forward will act collectively and responsibly to promote sector-wide financial stability in these challenging times and help the country to get back on its feet and people to rebuild their lives,” Jarvis added.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group added that it is vital the country is in a strong position to bounce back again after the crisis.

“More than ever, the UK will need the skills, research, innovation and expertise universities bring. We therefore support the full package of measures that have been developed with Universities UK on behalf of the whole sector.

“The right investment now will underpin the future growth and prosperity of the country,” he said.

The National Union of Students‘ vice president (Welfare), Eva Crossan Jory added that a generation of students will pay the price “if we don’t act now”.

“Students will play a critical role in rebuilding our society in the aftermath of this pandemic”

“There are enormous financial and logistical challenges for the whole sector: this is a systemic problem and it needs a systemic answer,” she said.

However, Crossan Jory added that any package of support for higher education must include appropriate support for students, “especially considering the mounting student discontent that courses are not being delivered as promised and demands for refunds”.

“Students will play a critical role in rebuilding our society in the aftermath of this pandemic. We must protect further and higher education and make sure that the students of today do not become a lost generation,” she said.

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