Ben HaywardJuly 16th

Universities at risk of bankruptcy following the coronavirus pandemic have been told they must commit to a series of measures in order to secure a government bailout. 

To qualify for the Department for Education’s (DfE) ‘higher education restructuring regime’ universities will have to cut courses delivering poor outcomes in terms of graduate pay and employment, look at providing more vocational courses, reduce executive pay and commit to protecting free speech.

The document states that the proposals will support the government’s overall higher education policy of steering universities towards ‘subjects which deliver strong graduate employment outcomes in areas of economic and societal importance, such as STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths], nursing and teaching’, reports The i.

If a university gets into financial trouble and asks for help, the DfE will then send in consultants to comb through its operations and draw up a rescue plan before an independently chaired ‘Higher Education Restructuring Regime Board’ will advise ministers on whether the university should receive financial support.

The move comes after a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that up to 13 British universities could be bankrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the higher education sector in the UK will suffering estimated losses of between £3bn and £19bn in 2020-21.

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We need our universities to achieve great value for money - delivering the skills and a workforce that will drive our economy and nation to thrive in the years ahead. My priority is student welfare, not vice-chancellor salaries.”

However, the plans have been met with anger by some parties, with the government accused of launching a ‘power-grab’.

General secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), Jo Grady, said: “Higher education is one of the few things we remain a world leader in, yet the Government is prepared to exploit universities’ financial difficulties to impose evidence-free ideology and reduce the diversity and strength in depth of university courses and research.”

Concerns have also been raised over a part of the government’s plan which states that the funding of student unions should be ‘proportionate and focused on serving the needs of the wider student population rather than subsidising niche activism and campaigns’.

Eve Alcock, who recently finished a term as the president of the University of Bath’s student union, tweeted: “I am disappointed and angry that this portrays ‘serving the needs of the wider student population’ as mutually exclusive with ‘subsidising niche activism and campaigns’.

“Are the campaigns that secure better online provision for disabled students considered ‘niche activism’? Are the enriching and important campaigns around Black Lives Matter that make black students feel seen, heard and valued considered ‘niche campaigns’?”

She added: “This sentence is a dangerous signal that could allow universities to merely fund SUs to deliver what they see as ‘icing on the cake’ of a student experience (sports & societies), rather than viewing an SUs role in its fullness as deserving of money to improve students’ lives.”

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