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Universities: Admissions

Question for Department for Education

UIN 42902, tabled on 4 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has made to support universities in the event that there is a significant decrease in student numbers in 2020-21.

Answered on

11 May 2020

The government recognises that the COVID-19 outbreak will have an unparalleled impact on all elements of the global and UK economy. The higher education (HE) sector, including student recruitment, is no exception. We have been working closely with the sector to monitor the likely impacts of COVID-19 on student numbers in 2020-21. We understand that the COVID-19 outbreak, and a possible reduction in overall student numbers, poses significant challenges.

In response to this and calls from the sector, on 4 May my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, announced a package of measures to stabilise university admissions this autumn and ensure sustainability in HE at a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

Temporary student number controls will be put in place for domestic and EU students for academic year 2020/21 to ensure a fair, structured distribution of students across providers. Provider-level student number controls will be determined based on provider forecasts and allow for 5% growth above this. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, will also have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places on top of the controls, of which 5,000 will be allocated to students studying nursing or allied health courses, to ensure growing numbers that will support our vital public services. This measure will only apply to full-time UK or EU-domiciled undergraduate students, with certain specified exemptions. These controls will not apply to international (non-EU) students.

The Office for Students (OfS), the regulator in England, will also consult on a new temporary condition of registration. The OfS’ proposed condition would prohibit registered providers from engaging in any form of conduct which, in the opinion of the OfS, could reasonably have a material negative effect on the stability or integrity of the English HE sector.

The government has also reprofiled tuition fee payments, expected to be worth £2.6 billion, for providers so that they receive more cash in the first term of academic year 2020/21. The government has also announced that £100 million of public funding will be brought forward to the current academic year to help protect vital university research activities in England. Confirmed providers are also eligible to apply for the government’s financial support schemes, which are estimated by the OfS to be worth at least £700 million to the sector.

Universities have an integral part to play in our economy, society and culture, which is highlighted now more than ever through their leading role in the COVID-19 outbreak. That is why we have introduced a package of measures to boost support for university students, stabilise the admissions system and ease the pressures on universities’ finances.

I have written to all Honourable Members, with full details of the package, which have also been published on GOV.UK:

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