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£60m bailout for the British Council

Image: nancekievill, via Shutterstock

Culture and exports body given £60m boost as UK nations act on coronavirus

A £60 million loan will be made available to the British Council to stop it from going bust, while three countries in the UK have announced plans for higher education related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Foreign Office has set aside £60 million to prop up the British Council, as its income from commercial activities such as English language teaching “has been heavily hit by Covid-19, leading to significant losses and the risk of insolvency”, foreign and commonwealth affairs minister Nigel Adams revealed in a written statement on 11 June.

Adams said the FCO was making the £60m loan available to the council to be taken as and when it needed, “to stabilise their financial situation until mid-August 2020”. He explained that the British Council had “taken measures to reduce their deficit and cut costs”, such as furloughing employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

The £60m will be taken from the FCO’s contingencies fund and the terms of the loan will be agreed with the Treasury.

A British Council spokesperson said: “We are grateful to the UK government for this generous loan to help us stabilise. We are starting to open teaching and exams where lockdown easing makes it possible to do so safely, while we continue close discussions with the UK government on plans for the future. As the world recovers from the pandemic, making sure the UK is connected, understood and trusted will only be more important. We want to be there doing our part.”

In Scotland, students who are facing financial hardship as the coronavirus pandemic forces cuts in seasonal and casual jobs have been told to apply to their universities for a slice of an £11.4m discretionary fund made available by the government.

Scotland’s further education, higher-education and science minister Richard Lochhead said on 11 June that students who rely on part-time or seasonal work “could find it difficult to cover their basic housing or cost of living” expenses.

“No student should face financial hardship as a result, so these new measures will support students until the start of the next academic year, when bursary, grant and loan payments will begin again,” he said, adding that the UK government’s support package for universities was “disappointing and fell short of recognising the full scale of the challenge”.

To aid students further, the Student Awards Agency Scotland, which helps higher-education students access funding, is making a £100,000 emergency fund available to Scottish students studying in Europe. The agency will not be collecting grant and bursary overpayments from students until September.

In Wales, the Welsh government published guidance on 11 June on keeping university staff and students safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. It said the guidance would help protect the “health, safety and wellbeing of the entire university community” as universities prepare to reopen campuses in September.

Legislation in England on a proposed student numbers cap to stop universities over-recruiting during the pandemic was published by the UK government. The recruitment cap, backed by the Office for Students, would see universities fined in they recruit too many students.