A report produced by London Economics for the University and College Union (UCU) projects an estimated £218 million decline in income for universities in the Yorkshire and Humber region due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19. This projected decline in income is due to an estimated drop in first-year enrolments of 19,330 in the forthcoming academic year. If universities are forced to reduce their expenditure in line with their reduced income, 2,740 job losses are expected in the region. This fits into a national picture of a projected £2.4 billion reduction in income across the university and higher education sector.
The report considers two key factors as determinants of financial impact on the university sector: the impact of forecasted national and global economic growth on demand in the sector and the decisions of students to defer enrolment due to the crisis. The pandemic is predicted to disproportionally affect the enrolment of part-time students with an 8% decline in part-time enrolment due to a recession alone; a 1% increase in full-time students is expected due to the reduced opportunities available to prospective students.
When these two factors are combined, the impact on projected student numbers is stark. An overall decline of 24% for first-year enrolments from the previous year is estimated. This figure includes 47% drops in enrolments among EU and non-EU students alongside a 16% decline of UK students. Overall, this amounts to an average 2,700 drop in student numbers for Russell Group (and/or former 1994 Group institutions) such as the University of York.
Of the projected £2.33 billion loss of income, £1.51 billion is due to a reduction in non-EU student. Fees for non-EU students are unregulated within the sector and often used to cover the costs of high-cost courses.
A spokesperson for the University of York said the following: “The report highlights the financial challenges Universities across the country face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Vice-Chancellor and senior colleagues at the University are working hard to influence debates in the sector to ensure that our voice is heard.
“We are working with our colleagues in the Russell Group, UUK and with our local and regional partners to ensure we are prepared for the challenges ahead.”
Following the publication of the report, the UCU are calling for the government to provide additional assistance to protect the higher education sector. This follows proposals earlier this month from Universities UK (UUK) on how they believe the government should support the sector — including bridging loans and increases to research funding.
It is important to note that these figures are only in relation to fees and direct income from teaching grants. The cost of cancelling accommodation contracts and losses of other sources of income such as hosting conferences is not considered by the report. Whether normal life in the UK can resume some semblance of normality in the forthcoming year, the impact on the university and higher education sector will be felt for many years to come.