A gross injustice is being done to universities, students and all our futures as the government abandons higher education to its fate

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The government announced overnight that it is not going to bail out the university sector as a result of the coronavirus. As the Guardian notes:

Universities’ hopes of a long-term government bailout in England have been dashed, though £2.6bn in tuition fees will be paid early and ministers pledged to allow full fees to be charged even if students were unable to return to lecture theatres.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said institutions could continue to charge the full £9,250 annual tuition fee for undergraduates while campuses remained closed and face-to-face classes were suspended as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, as long high standards of online teaching were maintained.

The FT notes:

In a package announced by ministers on Monday to shore up the sector’s short-term cash flow, universities have agreed not to engage in predatory student admissions practices in return for an advance of tuition fees worth up to £2.6bn.

However, the sector failed to secure government backing for its demand for a £2bn research funding bailout to protect universities most exposed to a predicted sharp fall in international students this autumn.  Instead they were offered an advance of just £100m in research funding.

They added:

Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter university said the package had not addressed the reality that the group was facing a projected £1.7bn shortfall as a result of the expected drop-off in overseas students.

Numerous thoughts follow.

First, this will lead to mass redundancies at universities, and most especially amongst academic staff, many of whom are on temporary contracts.

Second, this will scar the reputation of UK universities for a long time to come.

Third, the failure of the government to support research when Brexit is also causing untold damage to the sector as a result of the loss of European cooperation cannot be overstated: we will now be in the research wilderness.

Fourth, the well being of many students is now at risk: they cannot be sure that the institutions they are investing in will survive long enough to give them their degrees. That is grossly unfair to vast numbers of young people and could blight the lives of many.

And, fifth, the claim that all students must pay their fees is similarly grossly unreasonable. As many parents will know (and I do) some students are being abandoned by their universities this term and have literally no work of any sort whatsoever to do for the entire term and yet are being told they must pay more than £3,000 by addition to their student debt for this privilege. That is grossly unreasonable. Why should they shoulder the debt for this?

The lack of awareness on the part of the government of the crisis that they are creating on a multitude of fronts by this behaviour is staggering.

We need strong universities.

We need well trained young people.

We need to commit to the inter-generational creation of excellence.

This is not an issue the young can be left to carry alone.

And nor is there the slightest element of logic to the idea that universities are dispensible business units.

That this might lead to a serious reform of universities, their funding and student funding is the best hope. In the meantime gross injustice will be done.

And whilst this is going on, Easyjet has a bailout.

Just think about that.