Government needs to go further to secure the futures of universities experiencing financial challenges due to the Coronavirus crisis, Mayor Dan Jarvis said today (Wednesday 6 May).
Earlier this week, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson announced a package of measures to stabilise university admissions this autumn and to help ensure institutions and students are safeguarded in these challenging times.
The measures include new temporary student number controls, as well as bringing forward £100m in research support and £2.6bn of tuition fee income, enabling universities to better manage financial risks in the coming months.
But Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said that while the measures may deal with short-term financial instability, the announcement falls far short of a sustainable programme of support – therefore potentially impacting the universities’ abilities to support the regional and national economy.
He said: “Here in the Sheffield City Region, as in other areas across the UK, higher education is crucial to our communities, our economy, and our way of life. Just last week I was reminded of the importance of our universities, when I addressed hundreds of University of Sheffield medical students graduating early to immediately join the front line of the fight against Coronavirus. Their endeavours cannot be underestimated. That’s just a small example of the huge civic, economic and cultural contribution both our Universities make to our region – and this contribution cannot be put at risk.
“At a time when we are facing immense challenges on so many fronts, not least in our education system, we need to be creating a more sustainable framework for the future, where the interface between nurseries, schools, colleges and universities is more holistically knitted together. Now is the time to make those changes and work better, together. But we cannot do that if our institutions are on the back foot and lurching into a financial crisis.
“If we are to emerge quickly and more resilient from this crisis, it will be because of the decisions taken now to protect and preserve some of our great regional and national assets. It’s therefore down to Government to do more to support our universities here in the Sheffield City Region. That support could come in many forms; such as through a financial package, by ensuring that international students can access visas so students will be able to take up places in the UK, and by supporting the research capabilities of these two fantastic institutions.
“Our universities have stepped up during our hour of need, providing the students and the skills to get us through this pandemic. Their long-term survival is paramount to our economy, to our health, and to social mobility across our region. That’s why I’m calling on Government to give these institutions the backing they need and deserve.”
Both the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are key members of the Mayor’s Covid-19 economic response group, established to lead the region’s economic fightback. The universities also work closely with the Sheffield City Region on an array of region-wide civic, social and cultural schemes, such as South Yorkshire Futures, as well as together driving forward world-leading work through institutions such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre.
A decrease in international students will have a huge knock-on effect for South Yorkshire’s economy, and culture. The benefit of international students to the UK economy was estimated by Oxford Economics to be £22.6bn over the duration of their studies, with the Sheffield Central constituency being one of the top regional beneficiaries. The region will therefore be one of the most affected areas of the whole country if international student numbers decrease.
Although our two universities are taking tough decisions to address the current financial crisis, such as freezing staff vacancies, stopping discretionary spending and pausing the capital programme, in the long-term they will need support from Government to ensure that they are best equipped to help shape the future skills needs of our region; to drive growth and innovation; and to support research capacity and capability vital for our collective economic and social needs post-Coronavirus.
Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Chris Husbands, said: “The package announced by the Government is a helpful start, offering some short-term stabilisation for the sector and some much-needed clarity around student recruitment and finance. But this must be the first phase of support.
“Universities have been vital in this critical response phase and can be critical to the recovery phase. Once institutions are secure, which is currently far from certain, they could be a lifeline to cities and town devastated by the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 supporting reskilling, businesses and innovation through research and breaking down inequalities.
“The next step is for Government to recognise the role of universities in their localities, and to support and challenge us to be better connected and responsive to the places we are located – to act as civic, anchor institutions in the regions that need it most.”
Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “Universities have played a significant role in the regional, national and global fightback against Coronavirus, re-prioritising medical and societal research, innovating to design and manufacture vital medical equipment and supporting final year medical students to graduate early and join the NHS frontline.
“As anchor institutions, we take seriously our responsibility to steady the ship through turbulent times and will continue to do all we can to support our region’s people, businesses and economy as we move into the recovery phase of this pandemic.
“While we welcome the government’s support package for universities and students, this must only be a first step in safeguarding the skills and expertise that universities provide. Further support is needed to protect our crucial research and maintain the resilience that helps us play our civic role in economic and social recovery.”
Last month more than 600 final year nursing and healthcare students from Sheffield Hallam University volunteered to join the NHS fight against Covid-19. Most of them are now working in roles in hospital across our region. Medical students from the University of Sheffield have also graduated early this year, to spend the summer working in hospitals across South Yorkshire.