Coronavirus: UK universities could face £760m loss

HE Thinking, Press and Announcements | 26 May 2020

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In our previous blog: 'Scenarios for starting university', we reported a shift in applicant confidence and in our latest research for London Economics will find that one in five applicants are planning on deferring this year. The Guardian and The Independent have picked up on this story and confirmed that it could lead to a loss of £760m for UK universities. 

Our applicant tracker detected that one in five (more than 20%) of applicants would be willing to defer a year if their chosen university was not operating as normal due to the Coronavirus pandemic - a notable increase since our last report in April. 

This shift in opinion comes as universities plan to reopen campuses with safety restrictions in place. If universities were operating as usual with all classes in person and “few if any” social distancing restrictions, 13% said they would still defer starting.

The Guardian reported that based on the data, about 17% of prospective UK students would not enrol in September if coronavirus restrictions remained, costing the sector £763m in lost tuition fees and teaching grants (estimated by the consultancy London Economics).

Zamzam Ibrahim, the NUS’s president, said: “Students need clarity as to what they can expect from the next academic year in order for them to make informed choices and all staff must continue to be paid regardless of this decision.

“The government needs to move quickly to work with the higher education sector to ensure that all students are able to receive quality education next year and have the resources they need to engage with online learning.

“Students must be given the opportunity to redo this year at no extra cost, or to have their course fees reimbursed or written off.”

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister for England, said: “I understand that this an incredibly difficult time for students, so it is vital that universities are clear to students about how courses will be delivered in the coming year. I would urge students to think carefully about all their options and make informed decisions that best serve their futures.”

The survey also found that one in four applicants wanted to change their applications and switch institutions through the clearing process in August, which UCU said could lead to a “summer of chaos” as institutions compete to attract students.

Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, said she hoped the “shocking” results would persuade vice-chancellors to join the union in lobbying the government for more support.

“The current wait-and-see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk,” Grady said.

It's clear that now is the time to be talking with your applicants. But, knowing what they want, when and from who will be a key factor in winning them over. If you want to learn what your applicants want from you, get in touch with our HE research team.   

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