Thank you for taking the time to contact me about supporting the UK's universities.
Our universities contribute hugely to the economy and more widely to society and I understand the concerns about their finances. Universities are at the core of our response to this pandemic, not only leading on research into cures and vaccines, but also as a fundamental part of the knowledge economy which will be so key to the national recovery.
I am pleased therefore that significant action has been taken to support students and universities through these difficult times.
An estimated £2.6 billion of tuition fee payments was brought forward to help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn, and this will have no impact on students. A further £100 million of public funding has been brought forward to this academic year to help protect vital university research activities.
Education providers have also been eligible to apply for the broader COVID-19 support packages, including business loan support schemes. Guidance was published about how providers should access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to safeguard staff jobs, in particular stating that any grant from the scheme should not duplicate other sources of public funding where these are being maintained, such as UK home student tuition fees.
Ministers have also clarified that universities can draw upon existing funding to increase hardship funds and support disadvantaged students affected by COVID-19. Providers are able to use the funding – worth around £256 million for the 2020/21 academic year – towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment and mental health support. In December, Ministers announced a further £20 million of hardship funding on a one-off basis to support those that need it most.
Much of this support draws on proposals from universities, and I would encourage Ministers to remain open minded about adapting to the needs of universities as the pandemic continues.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Sally-Ann Hart MP