Gavin Williamson, the UK Education Secretary, has confirmed a range of measures to protect students and the higher education sector in England from the impact of coronavirus.
The package of measures, which draws on proposals from the universities sector, aims to stabilise university admissions in autumn 2020 and to provide safeguards for universities and students ‘at a time of unprecedented uncertainty’.
English higher education providers will be able to recruit full-time undergraduate UK and EU students for 2020/21 up to a temporary set level, which is based on their forecasts for the next academic year, plus an additional 5%. The Government will control these numbers through the student finance system. The student number controls will apply only to domestic and EU domiciled full-time undergraduate students in the 2020/21 academic year.
The Government will also have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, 5,000 of which will be ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services.
Prospective students will benefit from Clearing Plus, a new personalised UCAS Clearing process which matches students to universities or other opportunities based on their achievements and course interests. If students’ calculated grades exceed their predicted ones, it can suggest alternative courses with higher entry requirements.
With regard to international students, ‘Ministers are working across Government as a priority to ensure universities can continue to attract international students. DfE and DIT Ministers will also chair a group, including key sector representatives, to consider how the International Education Strategy can be updated to respond to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.’
Science Minister Amanda Solloway has also announced that £100m of public funding will be brought forward to this academic year to help protect vital university research activities. In addition, an estimated £2.6bn of tuition fee payments will be bought forward to help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn, including taking steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cash flow problems further ahead.
The Government has also confirmed that Higher Education providers are eligible to apply for its support packages, including business loan support schemes, which the Office for Students (OfS) the regulator in England, estimates could be worth at least £700m to the sector, depending on eligibility and take up. The Government has also published further guidance about how providers should access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to safeguard staff jobs, in particular stating that any grant from the scheme should not duplicate other sources of public funding where these are being maintained, such as UK home student tuition fees.
The Government continues to work closely with the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, to mitigate the challenges the entire UK higher education sector faces as a result of coronavirus.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:
‘I know this is a very difficult and anxious time for students, universities and higher education staff, and we are working determinedly with the sector and my counterparts across the UK, to support them during this time.
‘Universities have an integral part to play in our economy, society and culture, which is highlighted now more than ever through their important role in the fight against the virus.
‘That is why we are introducing a package of measures to boost support for students, stabilise the admissions system and ease pressures on universities’ finances.’