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Need for government to underwrite universities as report warns of huge loss in income from international students

7 June 2020 | last updated: 12 June 2020

UK universities face a multi-million pound funding shortfall as foreign students stay away due to the Covid-19 crisis.

A report from the British Council predicts that there will be 14,000 fewer new enrolments from East Asia alone at UK universities this academic year, compared to 2019-20.

UCU said the report was further evidence of the need for the government to step in and provide universities with urgent financial help. A report for the union by London Economics in April warned that universities faced a £2.5bn funding black hole due to lost income from student tuition fees and teaching grants.

The British Council report says international students would prefer a delay to the academic year if that meant more face-to-face teaching. Prospective postgraduate students overwhelmingly favour a face-to-face start in January (63%) over an autumn start online (15%). While undergraduate students are more closely split, almost half (46%) prefer a delayed January start compared to 37% who would like an online start in the autumn.

A poll released this week showed that over two-thirds (71%) of prospective UK students would like to see a delay to the start of term if it meant more face-to-face teaching. Almost a quarter (23%) of the students polled were worried their university might go bust as a result of the crisis and half (49%) feared their education would suffer as a result of cuts linked to Covid-19.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'There is a crisis unfolding in higher education and the government is refusing to act. This latest report is more evidence of the serious financial hardship that universities will suffer if the government does not step in.

'The current wait and see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk. Universities have already started cutting jobs and will keep trying to do so as the uncertainty persists, with huge repercussions on local economies that depend on higher education.

'Universities are focusing their efforts on trying to get as many students through their doors in September, yet they are refusing to listen to students in the UK and abroad who say they are worried about what their education will look like and even if their chosen institution can ride out the crisis.'

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