EPC’s continued response to Covid 19

Thank you to those members who responded to our latest Covid-19 initiative; a survey to gather details of the activities undertaken by engineering departments and academics in helping the national response to the Covid-19 crisis. The intention is to share this among members to build the sense of community, to acknowledge public-spiritedness and to encourage good practice. It is also hoped that we may be able to issue a press release highlighting the good work undertaken by colleagues in order to show the contribution that engineers and universities make to society.

In the meantime, the EPC has provided the following summary of the Government’s range of measures to protect students and the higher education sector from the impact of coronavirus. Members might also like to follow some of the links under further reading for further information.

Government university bailout

New measures to protect students and universities and to stabilise university admissions this autumn were announced by the Education Secretary on 4th May. Full details are here. The headlines of the offer include:

  • The introduction of temporary student number controls for 20/21. English providers will be able to recruit full-time, domestic students by no more than 5% above their forecasts.[i]
  • Government discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 student places (of which 5,000 are already ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services).[ii]
  • Advance payment (this academic year) to universities of £100m of QR funding.
  • Advance payment (of the second term payment in the first term of the academic year 20/21) of circa £2.6bn of SLC tuition fee payments to help manage cash-flow problems (there will be no payment in Term 2 this year).
  • Re-stating access to Government business support packages, available to higher education providers among others, including business loan support schemes (worth circa £700m according to the OFS).
  • Clarity about how providers should access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme including that any grant from scheme should not duplicate other sources of public funding where these are being maintained, such as UK home student tuition fees.
  • Re-stating of existing processes available to higher education providers among others (worth £100m this financial year) where the DfE will consider purchasing assets, such as land and buildings from suitable vendors where they can be used for new or expanding schools and colleges.
  • Inviting providers to use existing funds (totalling £46m across April and May) to boost their hardship funds for students in financial difficulty.
  • Reminding of the earlier announcement that UKRI-funded PhD students whose studies have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic will receive further support, including additional grants of up to six months.
  • Commitment to a working group on sustainability issues for the UK’s world-class university research (led jointly by DfE and BEIS).
  • Indication that the Government will intervene further only as a last resort, where they find there is a case to do so, and only where they believe intervention (in the form of a restructuring regime) is possible and appropriate.
  • For students there will also be a new UCAS ‘Clearing Plus’ process this summer which will match students to courses.

Expectations

  • Universities will be held to account for their admissions numbers through the student finance system.
  • A new temporary OfS condition for registered higher education providers in England, allowing OfS to intervene if universities and colleges act in ways which puts at risk students’ interests, or the stability or integrity of the sector. A consultation on this includes, but is not limited to, conduct relating to the 2020 admissions process and has wide ranging implications. The full consultation is here and closes at noon on 26th May.
  • which includes new rules to restrict destabilising behaviours such as use of unconditional offers at volume and that higher education providers will not put undue pressure on students.
  • That access to the business support schemes, reprofiling of public funding and student number controls should be sufficient to help stabilise most providers’ finances and that should certainly be the first port of calls for providers.
  • Where further action is required, this will come with attached conditions.
  • Providers will use the cashflow benefits appropriately, taking significant steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cashflow problems further down the track.
  • Any grant from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme should not duplicate other sources of public funding where these are being maintained, such as UK home student tuition fees.
  • Students who want to go to university, and meet their entry requirements, are able to access HE
  • All providers and their creditors will behave responsibly.
  • Universities will develop their own proposals to build an efficient, effective and sustainable research and development system, focused on driving recovery.
  • University research will continue to support the UK’s economic recovery following the crisis.

Further reading

Achieving stability in the higher education sector UUK proposal to government for a balanced package of measures to maximise universities’ contribution to the economy, communities and the post virus recovery (10/04/20)

Strengthening and enhancing UK public services in response to Covid-19 Million Plus proposals that flesh out and elaborate Achieving stability in the higher education sector (28/04/20)

The government’s Covid-19 support package for universities Wonkhe article (04/05/20) on the package of support to stabilise universities in the wake of Covid-19

Response to the Government’s new package of support for higher education institutions HEPI’s initial response to the announcements from the Department for Education and the Office for Students on support for institutions in the current crisis.

Government set to cap university admissions amid Covid-19 chaos Guardain article response (04/05/20) citing Alistair Jarvis, Chris Husbands, and Nick Hillman.


[i] The exact level of the student number controls and “certain, specified” exemptions will be set out in the coming days.

[ii] Note that the Education Secretary’s letter to the OfS in January asked it to prioritise funding through the teaching grant to STEM and specialist subjects.

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