English universities must prove ‘commitment’ to free speech for bailouts
Universities in England needing bailouts to survive the impact of Covid-19 will have to “demonstrate their commitment” to free speech as well as closing courses with low graduate pay, Gavin Williamson has announced.
The education secretary laid out stringent conditions for universities facing bankruptcy to receive government loans – including the scrapping of “low-value” courses with high dropout rates or whose graduates did not often end up in skilled employment – and said institutions would close or be taken over if they failed to make a strong business case.
“We need a future [higher education] sector which delivers the skills the country needs: universities should ensure courses are consistently high quality and focus more heavily upon subjects which deliver strong graduate employment outcomes in areas of economic and societal importance, such as Stem, nursing and teaching,” Williamson said.Advertisement
It has been forecast that 10 universities in England face long-term financial struggle following the lockdown. University leaders are anxiously looking towards how many students arrive on campus in autumn.
The Department for Education’s guidance said it would “require assurance that providers are fully complying with their legal duties to secure freedom of speech” before granting emergency loans.
However, the University and College Union (UCU) accused the government of using the pandemic to enforce political objectives taken from the Conservative party’s election manifesto.
“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,” said Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary.
Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said: “Instead of using this crisis as an excuse to centralise control over universities and force through cuts to courses, the government should pledge that no university will be allowed to go bust.”
The DfE’s guidance states that emergency loans would only be considered if there was “a clear economic and value-for-money case” and that closure would “cause significant harm to the national or local economy or society”.