Universities: Coronavirus

Department for Education written question – answered on 16th September 2020.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what additional steps he is taking to ensure that universities have the resources they need to respond to the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

We are working closely with the higher education sector to provide both practical and financial support through the COVID-19 outbreak. On 10 September, we published updated guidance to the higher education sector on reopening buildings and campuses, which is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses.

This updated guidance provides further advice on, among other topics, reopening university buildings, face coverings and social contacts, student accommodation, local outbreaks including student movement, and on NHS test and trace.

Furthermore, we announced a higher education support package in early May. HM Treasury confirmed higher education providers are eligible to apply for government business support schemes, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced its research stabilisation package on 27 June.

From the autumn, the government will provide a package of grants and no-interest or low-interest loans to cover up to 80% of a university’s income losses from international students for the academic year 2020-21, up to the value of their non-publicly funded research activity.

On 16 July, we also announced further information about the higher education restructuring regime. This may be deployed as a last resort, if a decision has been made to support a provider in England, when other steps to preserve a provider’s viability and mitigate the risks of financial failure have not proved sufficient.

We have also announced that, subject to parliamentary approval, we will completely remove temporary student number controls to help ensure that there are no additional barriers to students being able to progress to higher education.

We have lifted caps on domestic medicine and dentistry courses for 2020-21 and supported providers to offer places to as many students who have met the grades for their current offer as they have capacity for, and where there are clinical placements available, through additional grant funding to support the costs of this provision.

We are providing additional teaching grant funding to increase capacity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and other high-cost subjects which are vital to the country’s social needs and economy. The Office for Students (OfS) will consult the sector on the details of how the allocations are made.

Providers will also be eligible to bid for a share of up to £10 million of funding to support capital expenditure. This funding will be used to support the infrastructure required to accommodate additional students recruited as a result of the changes to policy on A level grades. The fund will be administered by the OfS, and providers will be eligible to bid for projects that support expansion in 2020-21.

We will continue to monitor the situation and consider the effects that deferrals will have on future years. Funding decisions for future years will be taken at the Spending Review.

Lastly, and most importantly, we are supporting providers to protect students’ mental health and wellbeing. This is a priority and I wrote to all higher education providers asking them to ensure they continue to support students. We have clarified that providers can use funding worth £256 million for the academic year 2020-21, starting from August, towards student hardship funds and mental health support. Furthermore, the OfS has provided up to £3 million to fund the Student Space platform to bridge gaps in mental health support for students. Student Space is a collaborative mental health resource to support students at English and Welsh universities through the unique circumstances created by the COVID-19 outbreak.

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