By Brian Hipkin, CEO & Founder at ReFRAME HE Consultancy Ltd.
The debate about value for money in Higher Education which has been rumbling on across Government and Newspaper leader columns for nearly a year has suddenly switched focus. Instead of the value of a degree being measured in income terms it is now centred around the halt in normal University life. Disquiet was already brewing amongst some students and the ‘bank of Mum and Dad’ as the UCU strikes dragged on for weeks, but now the picket lines have been replaced by ‘closed’ signs, demands for refunds of fees for both UG and PG students are growing. It is very unlikely that the SLC will be sending out any much-needed cash anytime soon. If demands grow, then a reduction in the total amount of loan repayments is one likely Government response.
Halls of Residence are now virtually empty and some providers are taking a financial hit to release students from their rent payments. However, many Universities do not have such deep pockets so we will keep a watching brief on how they are dealing with future rent payments.
We are just weeks away from what would have been exam season. Assessment in UK HE is by and large still firmly rooted in the exam hall so the rapid transition to online is a problem for both students and University administrators. How can everyone be treated equally? What will happen to ‘reasonable adjustment’ for those with disabilities? Will employers question the validity of the qualifications of the Class of 2020?
Many international students in the UK have been plunged into a Kafkaesque world of uncertainty and fear. In a situation of a global pandemic, their routes to return home have been rapidly shut down. If they leave what about their visa situation? Can they stay in Halls or in their private accommodation? Many, particularly from China, have also had to endure racist abuse and attacks. The Government has now provided a statement on their visa situation.
The Office for Students stepped in sharpish to stop Universities converting conditional offers for September entry into unconditional ones; something that many admissions departments were doing with great speed when the scrapping of A levels was announced. Some calm has now been restored with UCAS announcing a further two-week window for students to apply. The Convid-19 impact on admissions has now morphed into an imposed system of student number control.
From the News
It is perhaps natural in uncertain times that we turn to speculation about a future ‘when this is all over’. Academics at UCL looking to the crystal ball see a radically new school and Higher Education system emerging.
Whilst many are turning to the past as a guide to getting a handle on today so lessons learnt from the disastrous fire that in 2018 engulfed the only recently restored Glasgow School of Art show just how well disaster recovery plans can work.
In our pandemic world, the financial plight of Universities is but small beer. However already the ‘known unknowns’ of the financial impact of the Coronavirus as causing Universities in the UK to fear the worst. We shall keep an eye out as the ‘unknown unknowns’ emerge.
Pop up food banks run by Student Unions have become over the past couple of years an increasing phenomenon on our Campuses. They are now shut and students who relied on them have returned home or are staying in their accommodation. A crisis of hunger something that has been all too real for many students and families for too long now is going to increase and awaits an urgent response from Government.
Perhaps our forced migration to an on-line world will result in a new type of citizen, one informed by compassion as much as technology.