Skip to main content

Covid-19: Further and Higher Education

Volume 675: debated on Tuesday 5 May 2020

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for the further and higher education sectors during the covid-19 outbreak. (902245)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for the further and higher education sectors during the covid-19 outbreak. (902246)

I take this opportunity to thank all staff in the further and higher education sector for their hard work in responding to this unprecedented challenge. I reassure the House that we have protected grant funding for the FE sector for the full year, and we will provide additional targeted support. Yesterday, we announced an HE package of measures to boost support for students, stabilise the admissions system and ease pressures on universities’ finances.

I thank the Minister for her answer. A survey by the National Union of Students has shown that 85% of working students will need additional financial support after losing their jobs as a result of the current crisis. With rent being the most significant financial demand on students, will the Minister tell us what discussions she has had with the private rental sector to ensure that students are not being charged for rooms that are lying empty?

We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone, including students, which is why we have worked with the Office for Students to help providers. We have reallocated funds totalling £46 million for April and May for hardship funds for students. On accommodation specifically, we have sent the clear message that accommodation providers need to be fair and transparent in their policies for students. The Treasury has announced additional measures to protect renters who are tenants.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s world-leading Roslin Institute in my constituency are at the very heart of the global fight to find solutions for covid-19, but such higher education institutions are struggling to get the support that they need through existing Government schemes. Given the complexities of the funding models for higher education and the immense impact of the lockdown on such institutions’ current and future finances, will the UK Government provide a support package specifically tailored for jobs in the higher education sector, to support the economy and their covid-19-fighting efforts? What additional support is the Minister seeking to support research groups throughout the UK?

We should not underestimate the impact of the package that we announced yesterday, which builds on the Treasury announcement that universities are eligible for Government financial support worth at least £700 million. This package also brought forward £100 million of research funding. We have also brought forward £2.6 billion in tuition fees to help with cash flow. Most fundamentally, this is a package that is designed to stabilise the higher education sector and safeguard it as a whole.

May I take this opportunity to welcome the new Labour Front-Bench team to their positions and also to pay tribute to all those working in the education sector to support our young people through this pandemic?

The £100 million of quality-related research funding that the Minister has just referred to is research for England. Can the Minister confirm that this is indeed new funding and that these increases to the English QR grants will deliver Barnett consequentials for universities in Scotland?

I can confirm that this is QR funding that has been brought forward for English universities, but the hon. Member will have noted in the announcement yesterday that it also included a research taskforce designed to prioritise safeguarding our research base. That is a cross-governmental taskforce on which the devolved Administration Ministers will have a seat.