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An announcement to bail out research-intensive universities by the government todayis welcome news. Particularly for those researchers on fixed-term contracts who will see lost time made up through extensions. The package acknowledges openly that fees for international students have cross-subsidised research and this gap will be plugged through loans. Missing is a plan for teaching-intensive universities and addressing their shortfall in international students. The idea of further support for students is left in the ‘to do’ tray for now. It shows that elite universities are the priority and that others and the many struggling students are of lesser importance. The idea that universities might move the academic year start to January also emerged in the Guardian. Not because of COVID-19, but to accommodate a move to university entry after the exam results are out in the summer. This would help less advantaged students make better choices based upon actual and not predicted results. Ho…
The release of headline data from UCAS yesterday has shown that most students in the UK accepted offers made by universities this year. In many ways, these were offers that they could not refuse. This will come as a relief for most universities along with a dip in the numbers agreeing on deferral since the same time last year. However, their problems have not gone away. Many students and families will continue to add up the cost over the rest of the summer. Meanwhile, our universities are preparing themselves for an intake that will have increased financial problems (See TEFS 22nd May 2020 ‘How precarious are universities in the UK?’). It will be interesting to see how many students seek to defer after their results are out in August. Also, what the response of the universities will be. I expect most will ask students unable to attend to reapply next year and take their chances. The die has been cast and it is even more pressing that a comprehensive plan to support students is put in …
TEFS has called for more urgent consideration of the plight of students who rely on part-time jobs in the UK. The loss of jobs will also extend into the summer months with some students having no financial support from any quarter. The outlook is bleak. Government ministers with responsibility for universities in each of the UK jurisdictions have been written to today to ask for urgent action on a 'Taskforce on student support'. Emphasis should now turn to students as well as research. The alternative is a retreat on advances on widening access and social mobility achieve in recent years.
My article in the Guardian today ‘University students who work part-time need support – or they will drop out’ explains why the government should change tack and look more closely at supporting students into higher education this summer. The lack of part-time jobs, and families now reeling from unemployment, will hammer the sector. It is like a crash in slow motion caused by failing to see what was coming in the blind spot.
Last week the posting at TEFS ‘Blind spot about student finances cruelly exposed by COVID-19 crisis’ revealed the situation in greater detail. The results of a Freedom of Information request to UK universities showed that there was little or no data on the extent to which their students need income from hours working during term time. But the COVID-19 crisis has uncovered a terrible problem that was largely unseen in the past. It will hardly have escaped their attention that the lack of employment in the crucial summer months will just make matters worse.
A report by the Social Mobility Commission this week finally addressed the effect of the COVID-19 crisis. In assessing how the Government has performed since 2013, it produced what could be the quote of the year “Key fact: 600,000 more children are now living in relative poverty, compared to 2012. This is projected to increase markedly as a result of COVID-19”. This sits uneasily alongside the main conclusion that a total of 77% past recommendations resulted in either ‘little or no action’ or ‘insufficient progress’. Unkind observers might conclude that there has been willful neglect by the government for too long. This might be the result of too many vested interests in the status quo. But the current economic downturn has cleared the table and it might just focus the attention more.
A chasm in understanding the financial situation many students endure has been cruelly exposed by the COVID-9 lockdown crisis. The results of a freedom of information request by TEFS confirms the worst. Most universities have little or no knowledge of how many of their full-time undergraduate students are working part-time during the term. As a result, they also have no idea about the extent of hours diverted from studies and how it affects attainment by this group of students. The dramatic loss of jobs will expand this problem very fast and destroy any notion of 'widening access' as students calculate the impact on their progress this summer. It is time for a shift of emphasis from research and fees to supporting students. A 'Task Force on Student Support' is needed urgently.
The abrupt shut-down of the economy from late March suddenly exposed the precarious existence of students who relied on the extra income. Students in low paid jobs were hit very hard. This ‘inequ…