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Coronavirus threatens ‘vulnerable’ university finances, says MP

Image: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Institutions facing up to losing ‘a year’s worth of students’

Some “very very vulnerable” universities could face a difficult funding shortfall if the coronavirus outbreak impacts on the recruitment of international students, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Universities has said.

Daniel Zeichner (pictured) told Research Professional News that institutions could be facing the prospect of missing out on an entire year’s worth of students as uncertainty over international travel and school-level examinations continues. 

Total UK university income from tuition fees was £17.7 billion across the UK in 2016-17. Tuition fees make up 52 per cent of total income in England and 55 per cent in Wales.

More than 20,000 Chinese students have applied to study in the UK from September, outnumbering those from Wales or Northern Ireland. There are also question marks about whether A level and Scottish higher examinations will be able to take place this year, jeopardising domestic recruitment too.

“I do think the funding issue is absolutely key, and I worry very much,” Zeichner said. “Universities are very different [to each other], and some of them are very, very vulnerable. Some rely very heavily on international student income and they must already be in a very difficult situation.”

He added: “You can’t deny the fact that we are going to be losing a whole year’s worth people, by the look of it.”

Zeichner, who is Labour MP for Cambridge, took over as chair of the Universities APPG in January. Asked whether the Covid-19 outbreak could force the UK to implement an alternative approach to university admissions—such as a post-qualification approach—he said that it was a possibility.

“I don’t have any ready-made answers to this any more than anybody else does,” he said. “But what it might do is accelerate some of the things that are already under discussion, because we might have to change the way we do things. That’s the only silver lining I can see to this.”

An in-depth interview with Zeichner will be published in the Research Professional News 8am Playbook next week.