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Higher Education: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 99754, tabled on 6 October 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of (a) the potential for job losses in the higher education sector in the event that institutes close as a result of the covid-19 outbreak and (b) the potential effect of those job losses on the higher education sector.

Answered on

19 October 2020

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on both students and higher education (HE) providers, and we welcome the resilience, innovation and dedication from staff and students over these months.

It is our aim for HE providers to continue to deliver HE provision and support the needs of students, both on and off campus. We have also committed to work with HE providers to help them access the range of measures on offer to support jobs and financial sustainability.

The government is clear that we do not want to see any students miss out on the opportunity to benefit from our excellent HE system as a result of COVID-19. We expect that access to the business support schemes and the reprofiling of public funding should help stabilise most providers’ finances, and that should certainly be the first port of call for providers.

The department provided sector-specific guidance in April to help providers understand and access the range of government support on offer. This guidance confirmed that HE providers could access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to help safeguard jobs.

Furthermore, on 4 May, we announced a package of measures to give further support to HE providers at this time of financial pressure. This included pulling forward an estimated £2.6 billion worth of forecast tuition fee payments to ease cashflow pressures and bringing forward quality-related research funding for HE providers in England in the current academic year by £100 million.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, announced further information about the Higher Education Restructuring Regime on 16 July. This may be deployed as a last resort, if a decision has been made to support a provider in England, when other steps to preserve a provider’s viability and mitigate the risks of financial failure have not proved sufficient. The overarching objectives, which will guide the department’s assessment of cases, will be protecting the welfare of current students, preserving the sector’s internationally outstanding science base and supporting the role that HE providers play in regional and local economies, through the provision of high-quality courses aligned with economic and societal needs.

We will consider HE providers’ circumstances on a case-by-case basis, supported by expert advice, to ensure there is a robust value-for-money case for intervention, with support for restructuring in the form of repayable loans coming from public funds as a last resort, and with strict conditions attached that align with wider government objectives.

On 24 September, my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced additional government support to provide certainty to businesses and workers impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. This package includes the new Job Support Scheme? (JSS). This is designed to protect viable jobs in businesses which are facing lower demand over the winter months due to COVID-19. Like the CJRS, the government expects that the JSS will not be used by many public sector organisations. Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion. This also applies to non-public sector employers that receive public funding for staff costs.

However, regardless of the unprecedented levels of government support available, HE providers are autonomous of government and they are ultimately responsible for their own staffing decisions, which we expect them to make according to their own operational needs.