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Universities: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 107732, tabled on 22 October 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of providing additional (a) resources and (b) funding to universities in (i) tier 3 and (ii) tier 2 areas to mitigate (A) covid-19 transmission levels and (B) related public health risks.

Answered on

2 November 2020

The safety and wellbeing of staff and students in higher education (HE) and the wider community is always our priority. The government is doing all it can to minimise the risks of transmission in this unprecedented situation.

We are working across the government, and closely with the HE sector, to provide both practical and financial support through the COVID-19 outbreak. On 4 May, we announced the HE stabilisation package which reprofiled public funding and introduced measures to stabilise admissions with a view to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on HE providers’ finances. This package, along with the government-backed business support schemes, provided substantial support to the HE sector. On 27 June, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced further support to preserve research capacity and capability in the Research Stabilisation Package. On 16 July, we also announced further information about the Higher Education Restructuring Regime, which will review providers’ circumstances and assess the need for restructuring, financial support and come with strict conditions to align with wider government objectives.

Further to this, we have also published reopening guidance to universities informed by advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. We are lifting caps on domestic medicine and dentistry courses for the 2020/21 academic year and providing both additional capital and teaching grant funding. Importantly, we are supporting providers to protect students’ mental health and wellbeing, having clarified that providers can use funding worth £256 million for the academic year 2020/21, starting from August, towards student hardship funds and mental health support. Additionally, the Office for Students has provided up to £3 million to fund the Student Space platform to bridge gaps in mental health support for students.

We will continue to draw upon the expertise of the Higher Education Taskforce to identify COVID-19 related challenges faced by HE providers and students. We will keep policies under review as the situation evolves, based on the latest advice from Public Health England and evidence of the effectiveness of interventions and support for students and providers.