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31 March 2020

Open letter – Covid-19 demands a rethink of Higher Education funding

End tuition fees and market competition

This open letter was launched 31 March 2020 for immediate publication on the HE Convention website. You can add your name on this Google Form.

Covid-19 is a wake-up call for the whole of society.

Higher Education faces an existential financial crisis just as university researchers bend every effort to defeat Covid-19.

The benefits of HE are not just limited to research. Mass education from secondary to university created a scientifically-literate population. They drove the shutdown, demanding Boris Johnson and his Government acted.

But Higher Education itself has been undermined by a combination of Government policy, high tuition fees and management greed.

In 2010, the ‘ConDem’ Government raised home student undergraduate tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year, and (mostly) abolished block grants. Within three years, mature and part-time student numbers had almost completely collapsed.

Undergraduate numbers were controlled until 2014 when (with the exception of Medicine) the Government removed limits on student recruitment.

This lit the touch paper on a conflagration. For a £9,000 fee, university managers could make easy money out of undergraduate teaching. With no limit on the number of students universities could recruit, many expanded rapidly and built new campuses. But others, mainly post-92 universities, found their student numbers squeezed by intense competition for places in so-called ‘top’ universities. Brand name, not teaching quality, dominated. Undergraduate expansion encouraged further recruitment of overseas students and taught postgraduate courses, where fees could be even higher. Scottish Universities, not permitted to charge high fees, pursued overseas student recruitment in particular.

Before Covid-19, this system was already teetering on the brink. Universities were reportedly indebted by over £10 billion, and the total UK student loan debt had reached £121 billion by March 2019. Undergraduate student numbers were falling and several universities were rumoured close to bankruptcy.

Covid-19 changes the economic equation. Universities in the UK can now expect a sharp fall in total student numbers in September. Many students will delay applications for a year or two rather than apply for online courses. Some universities are contemplating delaying the start of term until January. It may be several years before the overseas student market recovers.

Already there is talk about bringing back the ‘cap’ on student numbers, even temporarily. But more drastic action is required to save Higher Education. Unless the Government acts now, the UK will see mass redundancies of university staff.

We the undersigned believe now is the time for a new deal for UK HE.

It is time to end the disastrous market experiment.

It is currently unthinkable that the Conservatives will privatise the NHS. Schools and further education know that their funding for next year is guaranteed. But Higher Education is uniquely vulnerable to a short-term fall in student recruitment.

  • We need emergency measures to stop universities going bankrupt. If unemployment rises as a result of a downturn, universities have an essential role to play in re-skilling mature students.
  • We need to return to the principle that Higher Education should be available to all who can benefit.

We call on the Government to:

  1. Abolish the current tuition fee system and underwrite the sector. Bring back the block grant.
  2. Work with university managements to safely exit expensive building projects and long-term loans.
  3. Agree that in the meantime there should be no redundancies, and staff on fixed term or other casual contracts should be paid as normal and not dismissed.

Initial signatories include

Carlo Morelli, UCU Scotland President, University of Dundee
Sean Wallis, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, University College London
Julie Hearn, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, Lancaster University
Lesley Kane, UCU NEC, Open University
Deepa Govindarajan Driver, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, University of Reading
Mark Abel, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, University of Brighton
Marian Mayer, UCU Branch Co-chair, Chair South Region UCU, National Negotiator, Bournemouth University
Sue Abbott, UCU NEC, Chair Equality Committee and Women Members standing Committee, Newcastle University
Pura Ariza, UCU Branch Equality Officer and UCU NEC, Manchester Metropolitan University
Cecily Blyther, UCU NEC, Petroc
Steve Lui, UCU NEC, University of Huddersfield
Lesley McGorrigan, UCU NEC, University of Leeds
Margot Hill, UCU London Region Secretary and UCU NEC, Croydon College
Lauren Heyes-mullan, FE lecturer, The City of Liverpool College
David Whyte, UCU Branch Vice President, University of Liverpool
Bob Jeffery, UCU Anti-Casualisation Officer, Sheffield Hallam University
Annie Jones, UCU Branch Officer, Sheffield Hallam University
Malcolm James, UCU Branch Treasurer, Head of Department of Accounting, Economics & Finance, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Chris Collier, Associate Lecturer, Anglia Ruskin University
Kathryn Dutton. UCU Yorkshire and Humber Region Chair (HE), York St John
Brian O’Sullivan, UCU West Midlands Region Chair, Bournville College
Sunil Banga, UCU Branch Vice President, Lancaster University
Peter Dwyer, University of Warwick
M Yasacan, PhD candidate, University of Keele
Stefanie Doebler, Lancaster University
Leon Sealey-Huggins, Lecturer, UCU Branch Committee member, University of Warwick
Katucha Bento, University of Leeds
Fatima Rajina, Lecturer
Shirin Housee, Course leader in Sociology, University of Wolverhampton
Johanna Loock, University of Leeds
Erik Jellyman, Research Associate, Lancaster University
Joss Winn, Senior Lecturer, UCU Branch Secretary, University of Lincoln
Roddy Slorach, UCU branch organiser, Imperial College London
Richard Mcewan, UCU Branch Sec, UCU NEC Elect, New City College THC Poplar
Michael Rees, Lecturer in Sociology, UCU Rep, University of Wolverhampton
Benjamin Vincent, University of Dundee
Thomas Gallagher-Mitchell, Lecturer, Liverpool Hope University
Rhiannon Lockley, UCU Branch Secretary, Birmingham City University
Samantha Wilson, Student/EAP Tutor, University of Leeds
George Lovell, Lecturer, Abertay University
Yvette Russell, University of Bristol
Ronald Mendel, Associate Lecturer, University of Northampton
Graham Smith, Deputy Subject Leader for Psychology, University of Northampton
David Saunders, Deputy Subject Leader, University of Northampton
Richard Dixon-Payne, Retired HE lecturer,
Nils Markusson, UCU Branch Treasurer, Lancaster University
Sonya Andermahr, Reader in English, UCU Equality Rep, University of Northampton
Mark Baxendale, UCU Branch Committee member, Queen Mary University of London
David Swanson, UCU Branch President, University of Manchester
Georg von Graevenitz, Senior Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London
Mike Orr, UCU Branch Committee member, Edinburgh University
Shirin Hirsch, UCU History co-rep, Manchester Metropolitan University
Eamonn Leddy, UCU Branch Secretary, Capital City College Group (Centre for Lifelong Learning)
Nina Doran, UCU H & S rep, City of Liverpool College
Naomi Waltham-Smith, Associate Professor, University of Warwick
Grant Buttars, UCU Branch President, UCU Scotland Executive member, University of Edinburgh
Katie Nicoll Baines, Project Manager, University of Edinburgh
Anne Alexander, UCU Branch Committee member, University of Cambridge
Linda Jorgensen, Lecturer, The City of Liverpool College
Claudia Campbell
Megan Hunt, Teaching Fellow, University of Edinburgh
Nadia Edmond, UCU Branch Chair, Falmer, University of Brighton
Verity Bambury, Lecturer, The City of Liverpool College
Tucker MacNeill, UCU H&S Rep, Falmer, University of Brighton
Penny Hope, Lecturer, City of Liverpool College
Cheryl King, Lecturer, City of Liverpool College
Julie Brennan, Leader of KS 4 provision, City of Liverpool College
Carol Cody, Liaison Secretary, City of Liverpool College
Tony Sullivan, London College of Fashion (UAL) Branch Secretary , University of The Arts London
Ümit Yıldız, UCU Black Members Standing Committee, Manchester University
Andrea Genovese, University of Sheffield
Richard Smith, Reader, University of Warwick
Prof Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London
Anna Robinson, University of East London
Richard Smith, Reader, University of Warwick

1 comment

  1. Jane Speare said:

    I support this

    2 April 2020 at 11:59am

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