The Covid-19 pandemics has now been hitting most sectors hard for months, and economic repercussions are expected to carry on well into next year. Universities are not spared by the crisis, and will be needing financial support from the government to carry on their activities.
The Government announced an advance payment to Universities to alleviate the loss in tuition fees, amounting to £2.6 billion. In addition, £100 million are to be dedicated to research funding. Although this ‘package’ is likely to be insufficient, it is more than welcome, as Universities are anticipating a loss ranging £3-5 billion and the loss of 30,000 teaching and research positions.
While some are confident these payments will be followed by a greater financial help scheme, other Vice Chancellors have expressed concerns about the conditions tied to future Government relief: the revision of student number controls allowing institutions to welcome up to 5% more students next term is seen as some as an increased interventionism to come from the Government. Moreover, the announcement made on May 4 stated that to be rescued, Universities close to bankruptcy would have to accept ‘restructuring’ plans, which Vice Chancellors predict include mergers and might lead to reduced – and maybe even cancelled – funding for research.
Turning to a ‘further education future‘ in the absence of research funding, as one Vice Chancellor told Times Higher Education, would mean several institutions would become more focused on being teaching facilities and lose their participation in research. Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, expressed his regrets regarding this possible destiny awaiting institutions, stating that:
There will be a much more managed research ecosystem, which I would regret because one of the reasons we are brilliant on research, in global terms, is that so many places are doing it.
With international student numbers expected to fall dramatically at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, some fear the UK might lose its so far respectable position on the international research scene.