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71% of prospective students support a delay to the start of term, says UCU

A new UCU poll examines student anxiety over the effect of the pandemic on universities’ futures

Over two-thirds (71%) of prospective students back a delay to the start of term if that would mean more face-to-face teaching rather than online, according to a new survey released today by the University and College Union (UCU).

Youthsight polled 516 students who have applied to university this academic year (2020/21) and found:

  • Over two-thirds (71%) were moderately or very supportive of delaying the start of their first year of university if this meant they could have more face-to-face rather than online teaching – 52% said they were very supportive
  • Almost a quarter (23%) were moderately or very worried that that the university they wish to attend will go bust (not have enough money to operate) because of the crisis – 9% were very worried
  • Half (49%) were moderately or very worried that the university they wish to attend will need to make cuts because of the Covid-19 crisis that will negatively impact their education – 23% were very worried

Government needs to guarantee funding so institutions are able to make decisions which put the welfare of their staff and students first, and plan for a delayed start if this is the safest course of actionJo Grady, UCU

“It is hardly surprising that students are anxious about what the future holds for universities and for their education,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady. “Given the impact this uncertainty is having on students, it is now critical that government agrees to provide increased financial backing to the sector. Students need to be confident that they will get a high quality education, despite the hugely damaging impact of the pandemic.

“Without increased support, our research has shown that thousands of jobs could go in a £6bn shock to the economy. While university staff and students will bear the brunt of this, higher education is also important to many local businesses around the UK who will be fatally damaged by this contraction.

“No university should jeopardise the safety of staff or students to try and offer a more traditional university experience in the current climate. Government needs to guarantee funding so institutions are able to make decisions which put the welfare of their staff and students first, and plan for a delayed start if this is the safest course of action.”

The new survey follows earlier research carried out by UCU into the potentially devastating impact of coronavirus on the higher education sector.

In April, a London Economics (LE) report for UCU warned that universities risked facing a £2.5bn “black hole” that will cost the economy £6bn and 60,000 jobs.

A more recent LE survey for UCU said a fifth of students would defer their university places next year if universities were not “operating as usual”. Prospective students also said there was a 25% chance they would consider switching their university during clearing.


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