Universities will not be allowed to cram in extra students to plug funding gaps but will get £2.6bn

Universities to get £2.6billion government support package as they are told not squeeze in extra students amid coronavirus cash crisis

Universities will not be allowed to cram in extra students to plug any funding gaps, ministers will announce today.

But they will get a £2.6billion financial support package to stabilise admissions and safeguard undergraduates.

This will give the Government temporary controls over student numbers, Gavin Williamson will say.

It came as nearly one in five prospective students say they have changed their mind about going to university this autumn because of .

The state-funded cash injection will be an early payment of tuition fees and will help to address any cash flow concerns – along with £100million in Government funding to help protect research activities. 

Higher education institutions in England will also have to stick to a temporary cap in numbers of full-time undergraduates from the UK and EU for 2020-21.

It means universities will be unable to take on extra students to make up their financial shortfall.

Admissions will be controlled by the Government via the student finance system, with ministers having discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, including 5,000 guaranteed for nursing, midwifery or similar health courses to support UK public services.

UCAS, the admissions body, will also develop a personalised clearing system for students this summer, including a ‘clearing plus‘ service to match youngsters to universities or other opportunities based on their achievements and course interests.

Meanwhile, institutions will also be able to use existing funds, totalling £46million across April and May, to boost their hardship funds for students in financial difficulty. 

Mr Williamson said: ‘We are committed to supporting our world-class universities and students through this unprecedented, challenging time. We are working tirelessly to do everything we can to stabilise admissions and protect a vital part of our country‘s economy and society.‘

In a call with journalists, universities minister Michelle Donelan also addressed concerns over students who want refunds because their courses have moved online, saying it would not be appropriate because virtual lectures have been ‘amazing‘. She said: ‘We‘ve seen over the last few months courses being developed online and virtually to an amazing level.

‘We have always said that we don‘t believe students would be entitled to reimbursements of tuition fees if the quality is there.

‘Of course, there are processes that they can follow if they feel the quality isn‘t there.‘

Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said: ‘The package of interventions indicates a welcome recognition from government of the central role that universities will play in the recovery of the economy and communities and the urgent need to provide support for universities to weather the severe financial storm created by Covid-19.‘

Almost half (48 per cent) of university applicants think the coronavirus crisis will damage their chances of getting into their first-choice institution. 

The poll from the Sutton Trust of 511 applicants aged 17 to 19 also found 19 per cent have changed their mind about their university attendance this year – or are yet to decide.

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