Protect and support key public service provision at universities, say MillionPlus and Universities UK

Universities UK and MillionPlus urge government to support the training of future key public service workers

Universities UK (UUK) and MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, have today (29 April) published proposals on how the government can protect and support key public service provision at universities.

The proposals build on Universities UK’s bailout package request to chancellor Rishi Sunak on 10 April, which called for investment to support university finances in the crisis and offered to work with the government to take forward “targeted support to protect and sustain courses that meet the national need for key workers”.

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of key public service workers – and yet, the paper points out, the country has been lacking sufficient numbers of them for some time.

Recruitment targets for secondary schools have been missed for the past seven years, and were also missed for primary schools last year. Meanwhile, nursing vacancies range from between 8.2% (NE & Yorkshire) to 13.5% (London). The shortage of trained staff is most noticeable in social work, where vacancies range from between 8.75 (NE & Yorkshire) to 24.2% (London).

Without government support for key public service provision, says the proposal, training capacity may well not meet future needs.

It also calls for increased general staffing budgets for key workers in hospitals, schools and local authorities so that organisations can retain staff returning to professions in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Key public service provision: ‘A simple three-pronged approach’

The UUK and MillionPlus proposals ask the government to:

  • Support students and graduates to become key workers in public services, by offering a maintenance grant of up to £10,000 for all students in training. The estimated cost of this would be £3,656.7million. Remove recruitment caps. ‘Forgive’ fee-loans for those remaining in the relevant professions for at least five years at an estimated cost of £1,243.4million.
  • Strengthen and enhance key public service HE capacity in universities by increasing the funding to the Office for Students (OfS) to reflect the added costs, while creating a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital Fund “that allocates funding to universities with provision in these subjects, supporting them in retaining staff and building infrastructure to deliver high-quality training in partnership with hospitals, schools and local authorities… An initial investment by the UK government of £500 million could be allocated on proportionate terms via the four funding bodies”
  • Retain and develop key workers in public services, by increasing general staffing budgets and creating a new professional development programme focused on enhancing skills of current key workers in public services and the new NHS volunteer reserve.

These proposals could go a long way to honouring the government’s election pledge to boost the NHS and help levelling up across the entire country

“Our universities and their students are vital assets to the UK,” said Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Brunel University.

“Our world-leading hubs of teaching and research have stepped up to the plate during the coronavirus crisis, supplying equipment, know-how and front-line staff to hospitals all over the country.

“It is critically important that universities have the resources to train the next generation of workers in these key areas so that we can meet future needs.”

Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Chair of MillionPlus and a Universities UK Board member, said:

“Universities need this support to be reciprocated from the government to help meet what is certain to be increased demand for these key public servants, as we work together to rebuild Britain.

“The overall UUK stabilisation package is essential to this – these proposals build on that plan’s explicit call for targeted support to sustain courses essential for our future national needs.

“These proposals could go a long way to honouring the government’s election pledge to boost the NHS and help levelling up across the entire country, as, slowly but surely, Britain heals and a kind of normality returns.”

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