Tuesday 7 July 2020 12:17 pm

DEBATE: Do we need a government rescue plan to save UK universities?

Jo Grady is general secretary of theUniversity and College Union
and Dr Steve Davies
​Dr Stephen Davies is head of education at the Institute of Economic Affairs

In light of the new IFS report, do we need a government rescue plan to save UK universities?

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, says YES.

It has been months since our own research identified a funding black hole for universities of around £2.5bn in income lost from tuition fees and teaching grants. Such is the importance of higher education institutions to their local economies that our report warned of a total economic cost of more than £6bn from the reduced economic activity generated by universities.

The news in this latest report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies is no more encouraging. Now, the government must step in and protect our universities. 

Put simply, if we don’t support our universities, jobs, courses and opportunity will go. We will be actively weakening the very institutions that we will need to help lead the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. 

The government’s failure to act so far has already seen universities look into sacking staff, with casual staff and those from BAME backgrounds suffering the most. We need a comprehensive support package that protects jobs, preserves our academic capacity, and guarantees all universities’ survival.

More on the University and College Union’s Fund The Future campaign can be found here.

​Dr Stephen Davies, head of education at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

Calls for the government to bail out higher education should be resisted. 

This is not a case of financially sound institutions being temporarily exposed by an unexpected shock — many were already in a precarious position before the crisis began. The pandemic has uncovered a pre-existing problem and accelerated it. 

Some argue that a bailout would be a form of investment because of the contribution that higher education makes to economic growth. But it is not the case that more students spending more time in higher education equals higher GDP (Switzerland shows otherwise) — it is simply that only rich countries can afford to have so many students. The real function of higher education is not to make people more productive but to send a signal to employers and so regulate the labour market. 

Higher education is a classic example of a sector that has over expanded and invested in a product with declining value. The time is ripe for reconstruction and retrenchment, not bailout.

Main image credit: Getty

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