Higher education facing crisis without ‘a new deal’, as Poplar and Limehouse MP says fees should be scrapped

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 government 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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MP for Poplar and Limehouse Apsana Begum said universities are reliant on the higher rate of fees they charge international students, which has dried up during the pandemic.

She added: “In fact, the tuition fee model was never a sustainable way to fund high quality education and research – as campaigners and unions have pointed out repeatedly.

“Therefore, as well as emergency financial aid to help universities out of this pandemic, we need a long-term plan which includes ensuring that casualised university staff are given proper contacts and fair wages.

“I believe in free education and have long called for university tuition fees to be scrapped, grants for students restored and that the government should invest in universities as needed.

“Education is not just about ensuring personal advancement and opportunity for all but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy in so many interlocking and far reaching ways.”