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It is time to move beyond fear and begin the journey towards recovery

Reviewing a week of higher education news, Worcester University Pro Vice-Chancellor Ross Renton calls for clarity and support from the government and Office for Students to help institutions alleviate fears and contribute to the UK’s revival.

UK universities face deficits next year - but are likely to bounce back, predicts Moody's

The coronavirus outbreak will lead to temporary budget deterioration and operating deficits for some UK universities next year, but the sector's finances are likely to bounce back in two to three years, according to a new report from the ratings agency Moody's.

Uncertainty over re-opening plans for HE leaves universities and students in limbo

Another week of pandemic-dominated HE news has highlighted the dilemmas facing universities and students over what to expect in the coming academic year says, Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University.

How to make online learning a dynamic experience rather than like a ‘Netflix binge’

As HEi-know publishes a Good Practice Briefing on the transition to online delivery of HE, James Clay, head of higher education and student experience at Jisc, who provides an overview in the Briefing, offers some tips on overcoming the challenges of making the shift to online teaching.

Postgraduate education has a key part to play in the UK’s recovery from Covid-19

Introducing a new report on Postgraduate Education in the UK, published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute, the report’s author Dr Ginevra House, freelance researcher for Ebor Editing and Research, weighs up the prospects for postgraduate programmes and students in the wake of the pandemic.

HE 'needs targeted government support' to help it respond to Covid-19 crisis

Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations for the Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD), reviews a week of higher education news in which concerns emerged over universities’ financial stability due to Covid-19 and the impact of the crisis on students.

 

While adjusting to life in lockdown as the scale of Covid-19 has intensified, there’s been a push on productivity and an adrenaline-fuelled sprint to transition online. The higher education sector remains resilient and is strengthening responses to meet staff and student support requirements. 

With increasing worries over institutional financial stability, The Times reports that university leaders seek a government bailout to counter up to a £7bn loss of income. The impact of potential student number controls looms with the Guardian running an article on caps being introduced.

Amidst this financial turmoil and ever shifting intentions of prospective international students, academics report concerns over their own precarity, increasing casualisation and fears of Covid-19 leading to opportunistic cost-cutting, especially for staff on temporary contracts who fear coronavirus cuts, says the Guardian. It would be preferable to offer protection by favouring furloughs over redundancies.

Reporting on weakened International student markets, ICEF Monitor draws on a survey from QS showing that nearly two thirds had decided to defer their studies for a year. PIE News reports that the pandemic is having a significant impact on student mobility, and that education agents around the world are urging prospective students to postpone their study.

Owing to uncertainty over admissions, we would expect home recruitment patterns to be destabilised, however UCAS says student decision-making behaviour remains consistent and that most still want to study this Autumn, although applicants would be wise to assess Institution’s online provision as part of their choice-making. WonkHE Associate Editor Jim Dickinson suggests that the rational decision students could make is to defer entry to HE for a year.

Should HE press pause rather than make panic decisions on whether next academic year is delayed, or delivered partly or wholly online? Irrespective of whether Institutions go later or go virtual, in letters to The Times, an academic calls for the academic term to be put back by five months.

Amidst calls to regulate recruitment markets either through student number controls or by the OfS clampdown on (mis)use of unconditional offers, many university leaders have concerns. Other commentators are more optimistic. Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, writes in the THE, of a boon for universities, predicting that a post-coronavirus recession could drive demand for higher education.

These forecasts are as changeable as the financial markets. University leaders shouldn’t pivot without first calling for some strong policy impetus and government intervention to mitigate risks thus easing mounting financial pressures. Well-targeted Government support would buy an extension of thinking time for leaders to plan more strategically by giving a steer, stimulus and some guarantees on the HE sector emerging intact and with better safeguards for students as called for by Lucy Holland writing for WonkHE.

Whilst the sector considers potential recovery models, students are paying a high price. The transition to online teaching has caused massive disruption. Institutions can’t assume that learners have a secure home environment with equivalent access to technology. Students state real financial anxieties as the BBC reports that some at the University of Bristol are staging a rent strike . Students feel unsupported and tensions over assessments have emerged. If exams are shifted online, continued or postponed, questions over fair grading systems will arise. The Times reports that students at Imperial College London are already in revolt over the “punitive” decision to press ahead with exams, whilst the NUS has called on universities to cancel or postpone this summer’s exams.

The Institutional response to student concerns has been to introduce No Detriment Policies as a safety net intended to protect students’ interests. However, whilst these rapid adjustments are welcome, the extent of extenuating circumstances will be unpredictable and unprecedented.

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