Higher Education

Department for Education written question – answered on 29th July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the viability of the small, specialist higher education sub-sector.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they have taken to protect high quality creative courses in the small, specialist higher education sub-sector.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The government recognises that the COVID-19 outbreak poses significant financial challenges to the higher education (HE) sector, including small and specialist providers.

We are committed to supporting small and specialist providers which play an important part in our HE sector to develop and nurture skills and talent that our country needs. We have been working closely with the sector, the Office for Students (OfS), and across government to understand the financial risks that providers are facing, to stabilise the admissions system, and to help providers access the support on offer. The OfS has stated that one of its key priorities during the outbreak is to support the financial sustainability of the sector. Providers with concerns about their financial viability or sustainability have been encouraged to contact the OfS at the earliest opportunity. In light of COVID-19, the OfS has enhanced its financial sustainability reporting to identify sector and short-term viability risks to individual universities, as well as patterns across the sector.

The government has already provided significant support to help providers through the financial challenges that COVID-19 has brought. The HE package we announced on 4 May, with its reprofiling of public funding and measures on admissions, has acted to stabilise the situation in England. Alongside this, eligible HE providers have also been able to apply to take advantage of the range of measures put in place to support businesses across the economy, including government-backed loan schemes and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

On 27 June, we announced further UK-wide support in the form of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s research stabilisation package.

On 16 July, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, announced further information about the HE restructuring regime. The government will be able to intervene to support a provider in England, where there is a case to do so as a last resort, when a provider has exhausted other steps to mitigate its risk of market exit because of COVID-19. The over-arching policy objectives that will guide the department’s assessment of cases will be protecting the welfare of current students, preserving the sector’s internationally outstanding science base, and supporting the role that higher education providers play in regional and local economies through the provision of high-quality courses aligned with economic and societal needs.

Financial support in the form of repayable loans will only be offered as a last resort and with strict conditions attached, such as tackling low-quality courses and reducing excessive vice-chancellor pay.

Details on the HE restructuring regime can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-restructuring-regime.

The government continues to prioritise world-leading specialist teaching and provides teaching grant funding, via the OfS, to support the costs of this type of provision. The teaching grant funding for academic year 2020-21 has been protected in full in cash terms and totals £43 million.

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