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UCU and NUS condemn government using Covid-19 crisis to impose restriction on universities

17 July 2020

UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS) have issued a joint statement calling on the government to stand up for the university sector. The unions were responding to the latest government guidance, which says not all universities will be 'prevented from exiting the market' and any public funding 'would come with restrictions to be determined on a case-by-case basis'.


'UCU and NUS are sister organisations committed to promoting the interests of our members and to defending education. We are proud of our work together in calling for a better deal for students and staff and in challenging the marketisation of education.

'Staff and students stand together in calling on the government to stand up for the university sector and not use the current pandemic to impose unnecessary restrictions on universities at a time when support is needed most.

'The government seems prepared to exploit universities' financial difficulties during the Covid-19 crisis so it can impose its evidence-free agenda. What the sector needs is a guarantee that institutions will be protected, not subjected to loans with ideologically driven conditions. Anything short of this will have a disastrous knock-on effect on local communities.

'University staff work tirelessly to deliver teaching and support for students and what they, and the institutions in which they work, need is support from the government not attacks on the type of teaching being provided. To dismiss students' courses as "low-value" helps no-one as all study has the potential to increase not just earnings (which are, on their own, an unhelpful proxy of success) but higher education is not simply labour market training and brings with it so much more, as students gain social and cultural benefits from university study. 

'Students' unions provide essential support to their local communities and vulnerable students up and down the country, and should be praised for their hard work, not dismissed as focusing on "niche activism". Such activism included support for LGBT+ rights, anti-apartheid protests in South Africa and more recently decolonising education campaigns and support for staff during their fight to safeguard their pensions, pay and working conditions. Students and students' unions have stepped up to the challenge during Covid-19 and been unafraid to hold the government and institutions to account over housing, hardship funds and much more.

'We call on the government to implement a package as outlined in UCU's Fund the Future campaign to underwrite the funding that universities are projected to lose. This is the only way to avert a looming crisis and ensure staff jobs are not threatened and students' futures are safeguarded. Anything less would be a betrayal of staff and students that have worked so hard during the current crisis and will leave the sector ill-equipped to lead the country's recovery.'


Last updated: 24 July 2020