CIE0200

Written evidence submitted by Universities UK

 

Submission of written evidence from Universities UK to the Education Select Committee on ‘the impact of Covid-19 and education and children’s services’

 

8 June 2020

 

About Universities UK

 

Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK’s universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to create the conditions for universities to be the best in the world; maximising their impact locally, nationally and globally. With 137 members and offices in London, Cardiff (Universities Wales) and Edinburgh (Universities Scotland), it provides high-quality leadership and support to members, promoting a successful and diverse higher education sector.

 

Universities UK has engaged with ministers from the Department for Education, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Home Office and Department for International Trade throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Our role has been to gather and relay the concerns of our members to government, securing policy announcements and guidance. Our priorities and asks of government are constantly evolving to reflect the latest developments with the virus ; this submission reflects our positions up to and including the date of submission 8 June 2020.

 

Executive Summary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of recommended areas for further action:

 

 

      Support for students including ensuring sufficient financial support is available for disadvantaged students, investment in student mental health, and support for universities to meet demand for reskilling and adult learning through flexible provision

      Research including additional funding that can be spent flexibly to enable universities to invest in new and existing research talent, cutting edge areas of research, and innovation

      Support for specialist institutions through increasing institution-specific targeted allocation (ISTA) funding.

      Universities in their communities including additional financial support for universities to work with partners to design courses and provision to meet local skills needs and address educational disadvantage

      Universities in the devolved nations through bespoke, targeted support that acknowledges the different challenges faced

      Restructuring including additional information about the government’s restructuring regime, and the opportunity to shape this based on what would be most beneficial to universities’ local communities and student bodies as well as increase financial stability

      International including adapting the visa system, maintaining the immigration and fee status of EU students for an additional year, and developing and funding scholarships and recruitment campaigns for target countries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITTEN SUBMISSION- The Impact of Covid-19 on Education and Children’s Services

 

 

The value and role of universities

 

  1. Covid-19 presents a huge financial threat to the higher education sector, affecting institutions’ ability to play a key role in the UK’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic, including through driving social mobility, conducting world-class research and training the workforce of the future.

 

  1. Universities generate more than £95 billion for the UK economy and over 940,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Universities across all four nations of the UK generate the following benefits:

 

 

 

Financial impact of Covid-19

 

  1. The financial risks and impacts of Covid-19 on universities include:

 

Immediate financial impacts such as the loss of income from accommodation, catering and conference activity in the final term and Easter and summer vacations, which in academic year 2019-20 amounted to around £790 million across UK universities.

 

Major financial risks in academic year 2020-21:

 

 

  1. Income generated from international student fees and wider university commercial activity contributes to the sustainability of university research activities where funding from government does not cover full costs. A fall in income from these sources will have a huge impact on universities’ research capacity, and their ability to innovate and invest for the benefit of students and the national and local economies.

 

Proposed stability measures

 

  1. UUK published a proposed package of measures[2] on 10 April that would:
  1. It should be noted that universities recognise these are hugely challenging economic circumstances. As part of a package of measures the sector will reduce costs, increase efficiency and moderate certain behaviours to increase stability and sustainability.

 

Government response

 

  1. On 4 May 2020, the government published a support package for higher education[3]. This was a welcome acknowledgement by government of the challenges facing the sector as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and that government must intervene to maintain financial stability. The package reflected many of the areas highlighted in UUK’s proposals including cash flow challenges, risks to admissions stability, the need to promote international competitiveness and threats to the UK research base.

 

  1. The focus of the package is on addressing immediate cash flow challenges, with measures focusing on the period up to autumn 2020 including access to government loan schemes, reprofiling of tuition fee payments and some additional minor QR funding brought forward to this academic year. There are also steps to prevent extreme volatility in undergraduate home admissions during this recruitment cycle – both on numbers and behaviour with sanctions to back this up.

 

  1. There are signals about the importance of supporting courses for public service workers, promoting international competitiveness, supporting small and specialist institutions and hardship support for students; further details on these areas are urgently needed.

 

  1. However, there was a lack of firm commitments of any additional government money to address the expected and significant falls in income in 2020-21 and very little to reassure universities in the devolved nations that Westminster will provide the necessary support.

 

  1. While there are markers to signal further measures will be developed – on research, international education and on restructuring at this stage no additional substantive UK government funding has been allocated, or suggested, to support the higher education sector in 2020-21[4].

 

Limitations to the government’s support package

 

Support for the devolved nations

 

  1. The government’s package did not include any references to how the Westminster government will provide the necessary support to devolved universities – the only references were the Westminster government working together with the devolved administrations on what restructuring may be needed across the sector and inclusion of the devolved administrations in the taskforce on university research sustainability.

 

Research and innovation funding

 

  1. No reassurances have been given on any increases in research funding for the next academic year to protect the UK research base, and there was no mention of innovation funding. There is an explicit reference to government expecting universities to propose ways to ‘build an efficient, effective and sustainable research and development system, focused on driving recovery.

 

  1. The lack of commitment to any substantive increase in research or innovation funding to address anticipated falls in income also fails to recognise the ongoing deficit in funding of the research base, which in 2017-18 stood at £4.3 billion[5].

 

  1. The significant financial impact on the research base will hinder universities’ ability to contribute to the economic recovery including local and national effects on inward investment, enterprise, high growth companies of the future, attracting global talent, addressing societal challenges such as climate change and developing sustainable energy. UUK is currently gathering evidence on the likely damage that a lack of additional funding would cause.

 

  1. UUK is involved in the joint Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Ministerial Taskforce on university research sustainability that has been established. This will look at ‘how universities and the government can work together to ensure the health of university-led research in both the short and long term across the UK.’

 

Focus on government schemes

 

  1. The government’s announcement stated that We expect access to the business support schemes, reprofiling of public funding and student number controls should be sufficient to help stabilise most providers’ finances”. However, UUK understands that there are significant problems with the government’s existing support schemes – in terms of their scale, ease of access, timing, or how appropriate they are given existing university lending and loan covenants from other sources.

 

  1. These factors suggest existing government loan schemes are insufficient and inappropriate in addressing the impact of a substantial loss of income from international students and other sources that will hit universities in 2020-21, and whose effects will continue in subsequent years.

 

Additional support

 

  1. The government’s package includes reference to support outside of research that may be implemented, including support associated with restructuring and support for specialist institutions. However, the extent and timing of this support is unknown. UUK believes there is a lack of recognition of the challenges small and specialist institutions face, and will continue to press for advancing the increases in institution-specific targeted allocation (ISTA) funding.

 

  1. No commitments were given on protecting courses for key public sector workers beyond the extra 10,000 places being earmarked outside of the temporary student stability measures. Targeted support should be provided to protect and sustain courses that meet the national need for key public sector workers, and facilitate planned growth in 2020-21 and 2021-22 in key areas such as nursing, healthcare, medicine and teaching.

 

  1. Covid-19 and its economic implications have exacerbated the need to design high-level skills provision that can be delivered in a more flexible way, including levels 4 and 5. On 2 March UUK put proposals to government highlighting how funding a regional pilot of modular learning would start to break down the barriers to adult and part-time learning. We will continue to work with government on how universities can reskill communities post-Covid 19 through greater online and flexible learning.

 

Restructuring

 

  1. The government’s package indicated that if a provider finds itself at risk of closure, government will intervene as a last resort. DfE, working with HM Treasury and others, will be developing a restructuring regime. This is narrower than UUK’s proposal of 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.

 

  1. Universities play a crucial role in their local communities, working alongside further education colleges, businesses, councils and local enterprise partnerships to assess and meet local skills needs. The financial failure of any institution would have a significant impact on their local communities, and potentially create ‘cold spots’ of higher education provision, limiting choice for learners in often disadvantaged areas. The government should therefore actively support universities looking to restructure rather than intervening as a last resort.

 

Admissions stability

 

  1. UUK welcomes the government’s acceptance of our proposal on introducing a time-limited stability measure enabling universities in England and Wales to recruit their forecast number of domestic and EU students +5%. DfE guidance[6] published on 1 June set out the scope of the temporary student number controls, the underpinning methodology for calculating the controls and some further details on how the additional 10,000 places would be allocated. It was not, however, clear until the publication of this guidance that the student number controls would be applied to English-domiciled students studying in the devolved administration. This decision was taken without consultation with institutions in the devolved nations or their representative bodies.

 

  1. UUK believes there is a role for the OfS to take targeted and proportionate action on a strictly time-limited basis to further support stability for students and universities while the pandemic substantially affects universities’ provision. However, UUK does not support the full extent of new OfS regulatory powers as outlined in its recent consultation as it leaves too much open to interpretation which runs the risk of restricting universities at a time of acute financial vulnerability. The scope of any new regulatory intervention should be targeted more effectively and focus solely on supporting stability for students, using the 2020/21 student stability measure as the central guiding policy intention. UUK also has concerns about the legalities of taking retrospective action to the extent proposed, and believes that the proposals could damage recruitment to courses where non-academic factors are more central to admissions decision making and risk creating new limitations on efforts to promote access which must be avoided.

 

International work

 

  1. UUK welcomes the government’s commitment to Ministers from the Department for Education and Department for International Trade convening a group to assess how the International Education Strategy can be updated by autumn 2020 to respond to the impact of Covid-19.

 

  1. Universities UK International (UUKi) is working closely with government to design policy interventions which would ensure the UK retains its place as a global leader for international education. Our plan falls into three areas:

 

Create a secure pathway for incoming international students – from obtaining a visa to starting their classes

 

  1. This would require government action in the form of:

 

 

Ensure that the UK is the destination of choice this autumn

 

  1. This would require government action in the form of:

 

 

Maximising the UK’s competitiveness in the longer term

 

  1. This would require government action in the form of:

 


 

Student Support

 

  1. The top priority of our members remains the health and wellbeing of the entire university community, including students that have remained on campus, those that have returned to family homes, and all staff from researchers and lecturers, to those maintaining vital services and facilities.

 

Accommodation

 

  1. Universities are closely following the advice of the public health authorities and since the start of the outbreak have been working hard to regularly share this with students and staff. UUK has played a key role in disseminating government guidance to our members, using existing and newly formed channels of communication.

 

  1. The current government advice on social distancing equally covers universities, and it has been helpful that separate guidance[7] on residential educational settings was published on 21 March. Many students have returned to family homes, but certain groups of students may not have been able to do so. These include care leavers, students estranged from their families, health and medical students that have transferred to work for the NHS, and international students for whom border closures prevent a return to their home countries.

 

  1. Universities are supporting students that have remained on campus, numbers of which can be significant. At Brunel University London around 1,500 students remain. UUK made clear to government officials that the definition of key workers for universities should include those in business-critical roles such as staff responsible for ensuring self-isolating students have supplies of food, cleaning products and medicines as well as those maintaining research projects that cannot be left unattended.

 

  1. Many universities have waived third term accommodation fees for students, and others have reduced/refunded a proportion of these fees for students that have either decided to remain in halls or are unable to return home. These decisions are taken on an institution-by-institution basis. Universities are also in discussion with private third-party providers leasing accommodation to their students both purpose-built and houses in multiple occupationencouraging fairness in this challenging situation.

 

  1. UUK has urged the government to produce and update clear and timely guidance for institutions regarding student accommodation, including recent guidance on when, how and if students can return to collect belongings.

 

Financial and additional support

 

  1. Hardships funds are also being either rolled out or bolstered by many universities, in acknowledgment of the challenging financial situation faced by students, particularly those that relied on part-time work to support themselves. The University of York has launched an Emergency Student Support fund to provide bursaries for students facing unanticipated financial challenges, and the University of Essex has amended criteria and streamlined its existing student hardship fund.

 

  1. Universities are aware that a lack of appropriate technology may impact students from disadvantaged backgrounds’ ability to study if they usually rely on on-campus IT infrastructure. Institutions are therefore making laptops, dongles and software available to students that would otherwise not be able to fulfil their learning objectives. For example, Middlesex University have made 1,000 laptops available to students, and De Montfort University has provided free specialist software to textiles students to enable them to continue their learning despite the practical nature of the course.

 

  1. In the 4 May support package the government announced that universities can draw upon existing funding to increase hardship funds and support disadvantaged students impacted by Covid-19; this funding totals £46m across April and May. UUK is collecting additional information on how institutions have been able to repurpose funding for this purpose, how they plan to support disadvantaged students to access and remain in higher education despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, and what steps are being taken to support students that do not have access to the appropriate technology. Additional government support may be required to ensure disadvantaged students’ access and participation in higher education is not negatively affected by the pandemic. The full extent of the impact on different groups of students is not yet known, and therefore we urge DfE to work closely with UUK on this matter.

 

Teaching and Learning

  1. Universities have introduced a range of measures to ensure students do not miss out on the opportunity to learn, to progress through their degree, and to graduate this year, where applicable. This includes:

 

  1. These initial solutions are not perfect for all students but in this unprecedented situation the health and safety of staff and students is paramount. According to an NUS survey[8], two thirds of students felt the online learning content they are receiving is good quality. While there is clearly room for improvement here, it is encouraging considering this is a new and unsettling time for all involved. The timing of the pandemic and the academic year also means that for many students they will have completed most of their learning for 2019/20 prior to lockdown.

 

  1. Universities’ transition online is being monitored and supported by the OfS and other sector bodies. For instance, universities are ensuring quality and standards in England are maintained by referring to guidance published by the OfS and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). Many universities are also members of additional degree accreditation bodies ensuring the integrity of their awards. UUK is working closely with DfE and QAA to ensure professional, regulatory and statutory bodies are working constructively for the sector. This means that this year’s finalists can graduate with a degree they can be proud of and which is in line with guidance from the bodies responsible for quality and standards.

 

  1. Universities are keen to improve their students’ experience of online learning, harnessing what has been learnt and achieved since the start of lockdown and building on this for the rest of the summer term and potentially into autumn.

 

  1. Planning is fully underway for the start of the 2020/21 academic year to ensure that new and returning students will continue to receive high-quality teaching and an engaging and positive experience in a way that still has the health, safety and wellbeing of students and the entire university community at its core. This may include blended models of learning which combine online and in-person activities. Universities are engaged with the latest public health guidance and will be in regular communication with current and prospective students as strategies are developed. On 3 June UUK published a set of high-level principles[9] and supporting information for universities to consider as they emerge from lockdown. The principles offer a framework for individual universities to adapt to their own institutional settings and contexts and cover the health and safety of the whole university community, infrastructure, accommodation, wellbeing and the specific needs of both international students and those that are vulnerable or shielding.

 

  1. Student and consumer protection is central in universities’ thinking and planning, and universities will make sure students are clear on what they can expect and how the pandemic is likely to impact on their studies in the coming academic year.

 

Graduates

 

  1. Universities understand Covid-19 presents a difficult and stressful situation for students in their final year in particular, which is why all possible measures are being put in place to ensure support is available to as many students as possible to graduate this year and in a way that ensures a fair and consistent approach throughout.

 

  1. The wider economic landscape will present challenges for new graduates, and careers advisors across institutions continue to be available for discussions with concerned students about their options. Providers will also work together with future employers to support student wellbeing across the transition.

 

  1. Elsewhere, universities are seeking to work constructively with Professional Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) for key occupations such as teaching, nursing and social work to ensure there are no further delays or obstacles to graduate employment in these roles which are vital at this time.

 

  1. More broadly, UUK is also working with universities, careers services and employers to ensure that those who are entering the labour market over the coming months, or who are early on in their careers, have additional support and are aware of the options available. This work will explore a range of interventions and support that government, employers, and universities might be able to provide – such as an enhanced offer from careers services working with employers to understand how they are adapting their graduate opportunities in light of Covid-19, as well as additional support for those wanting to undertake further study.

 

Mental health and wellbeing

 

  1. Student and staff mental health is a priority area of work for UUK. The latest iteration of our StepChange guidance ‘Mentally Healthy Universities’[10] was published on Monday 18 May to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The guidance emphasises that a whole university approach must be taken, with all aspects of university life supporting and promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing. The Covid-19 outbreak presents a universal mental health challenge, bringing the importance of this work to the fore. Universities are responding to the increased challenge in a number of ways, including swift transition of student support services online.

 

  1. Designing and promoting alternative activities that promote wellbeing such as those centred around social interaction and sport whilst restrictions are in place is important for university communities. An example of university action in this area is the University of Stirling’s #BeConnected scheme inspired by the ‘five ways of wellbeing’ which provides a wide range of online activities including physical activity, ways to connect with peers, mindfulness and opportunities to volunteer.

 

  1. Different groups of students’ wellbeing will be affected in different ways throughout the pandemic, and universities are conscious of this when planning and adapting their services. Special consideration is being taken for students that are starting in autumn 2020, the majority of which will have missed out on several months of classroom-based teaching and may therefore need additional support adapting to university life. UUK published a briefing[11] on 30 April including advice for universities to develop their existing policies to support students and staff at risk of experiencing domestic violence and online harassment due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This publication draws on advice from academics, professional services staff in the sector, and external organisations such as Refuge and Women’s Aid.

 

Additional examples

 

  1. A selection of examples of the ways in which universities have supported students on campus can be found below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civic engagement

 

  1. Universities are vital in supporting their local communities and the nation in the effort to fight Covid-19. They are helping organisations in many different ways, from providing the NHS with the workforce and equipment it needs to providing open access online courses to the wider community.

 

Research

 

  1. The essential medical research undertaken by universities such as Imperial College London has been widely used by the government to inform its response to the pandemic, and well documented in media coverage. Universities are, however, undertaking a much broader range of research to help both the UK and the global community understand, prevent and tackle Covid-19.

 

  1. The University of Cambridge is coordinating a major national effort to control Covid-19 by analysing the genetic code of the coronavirus. Cardiff University, the University of Sheffield, the University of Liverpool, University College London, University of Glasgow, and the University of East Anglia are also part of this national effort.

 

  1. Universities are playing a major part in increasing testing capacity and accuracy, a major focus of political, public and media attention since the start of the pandemic. Institutions across the country are in the process of developing portable testing machines, breath collectors, apps and other innovative ways of diagnosing the virus. A range of institutions have also been involved in the production and distribution of vital ventilators. Universities have existing relationships with local NHS Trusts and businesses and are well-placed to coordinate local efforts to provide essential equipment to frontline workers.

 

Contributions to the wider national effort to tackle Covid-19

 

  1. Beyond scientific research, universities are supporting the NHS not only by providing a pipeline of doctors, nurses, paramedics and allied healthcare workers but by supplying a range of equipment, laboratories and facilities.

 

  1. As of 14 April more than 12,000 second and final year nursing and midwifery students, and 2,213 medical students had enrolled to provide care and support as part of the effort to tackle Covid-19[12].

 

  1. It was announced on 3 April that the University of the West of England, Bristol would host the new 1,000 bed NHS Nightingale hospital for the South West in its Exhibition and Conference Centre[13]. This is a clear and visible example of universities adapting to meet local and national healthcare needs during the Covid-19 pandemic. Numerous other interventions, donations and schemes from universities can be seen across the country.

 

  1. Many universities possess PPE for training purposes and have been quick to donate this to the NHS. For example, the University of South Wales has donated goggles, plastic aprons, surgical face masks and gloves to Cwm Taf University Health Board[14]. 13,500 items have also been donated by Buckingham New University, and others involved in providing PPE to local NHS trusts include the Universities of Derby, Salford, Edge Hill and Kingston.

 

  1. In response to the social impact of the virus, many universities have made their arts and cultural resources available to the public, like the University of Liverpool which has established a ‘Culture at Home’[15] hub on its website to bring together experiences and activities for adults and children including concerts and exhibitions. Graphic design students at De Montfort University have produced colouring books featuring rainbow illustrations to raise money for the Leicester Hospitals Trust[16].

 

  1. UUK is coordinating a range of requests for national bodies for support, equipment and facilities, ensuring information reaches the right individuals within institutions in a timely and efficient way. To date, UUK has disseminated and coordinated requests for: student accommodation for NHS workers, car parks for drive-through testing, ideas for Covid-19 testing, student accommodation for the homeless and qualified staff to support the expansion of laboratory testing for Covid-19.

 

  1. UUK is working with organisations such as the Civic Universities Network and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement to produce guidance to assist universities to undertake activities contributing to the national effort. Consideration is given to resource implications, staff and student safety, and the actions that will need to be taken as we move beyond the immediate response to the pandemic.

 

  1. As noted in the ‘financial sustainability’ section of this submission, universities will be vital in rebuilding the national and local economies following the Covid-19 pandemic including through reskilling individuals, conducting leading research and knowledge exchange, and attracting inward investment. The connections and partnerships that universities are forming and developing in response to the pandemic will further their ability to play a crucial role in ensuring employers of all sizes, private and public sector, have the skills they need to succeed in the future.

 

 

END

 

 

 

Contact:

Harriet Jones

Senior Political Affairs Officer

Universities UK

 

 

June 2020

 

 

 

15

 


[1] London Economics (2020) The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university deferral rates and students switching- May 2020

[2] Universities UK (2020) Achieving stability in the higher education sector following Covid-19

[3] Department for Education (2020) Government Support Package for Higher Education Providers and Students

[4] To note, the Scottish Government announced a one-off £75million increase in funding for Scottish universities on 6 May

[5] Office for Students, Annual TRAC 2017-18

[6] DfE (2020) Introduction of temporary student number controls in response to Coronavirus (Covid-19)

[7] Department for Education and Public Health England (2020) ‘Coronavirus (Covid-19): Guidance on isolation for residential educational settings’

[8] National Union of Students (NUS) (2020) Covid-19 and Students Survey Report

[9] Universities UK (UUK) (2020) Principles and Considerations: Emerging from Lockdown

[10] Universities UK (2020) ‘Stepchange: Mentally Healthy Universities’

[11] Universities UK (2020) ‘Beginning the Conversation: Responding to Domestic Violence and Abuse in Higher Education Communities’

[12] NHS England (2020) News: Student doctors and nurses praised for joining ‘NHS Army’ to tackle historic coronavirus threat

[13] UWE, Bristol (2020) ‘UWE Bristol's Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) to be used as a temporary NHS hospital treating COVID-19 patients

[14] University of South Wales (2020) ‘USW helps the NHS in the fight against Coronavirus’

[15] University of Liverpool (2020) ‘Coronavirus (Covid-19): Culture at Home’

[16] De Montfort University (2020) ‘Students release rainbow colouring books to raise NHS funds’