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University Student Numbers

Volume 679: debated on Monday 7 September 2020

What steps the Government is taking to support universities accepting higher numbers of domestic students as a result of the recent policy change on predicted A-level grades. (905490)

What steps the Government is taking to support universities accepting higher numbers of domestic students as a result of the change in policy on predicted A-level grades. (905503)

What steps his Department is taking to help universities increase the number of places available to students in 2020-21. (905512)

We are working across Government and closely with the higher education sector, utilising the higher education taskforce I have created, to ensure that the vast majority of students who want to go to university this year can do so at the university that their grades unlock.

Universities need financial support to expand physical buildings and facilities and to fund the expansion of wellbeing and support services and other important areas of university life. Will the Secretary of State confirm that this additional support will be granted to ensure that his algorithm does not cost thousands of students their futures, and when will he do this?

Last week, in fact, we announced a £10 million capital fund to cover capital as well as equipment. This is on top of our announcement of additional funding to support high-cost subjects and the announcements we made in May for the sustainability of the sector, and is supported by the package of £280 million from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

In a recent National Union of Students survey, 55% of students reported that the income of their parents or those who provided financial support to them had been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and 80% were worried about how they would cope financially, not to mention the fact that part-time jobs will be in short supply. Given that the university hardship funds were not designed for such demand, what extra provision will the Government make to ensure that universities can properly support students facing hardship?

If a student is not already accessing the maximum loan and the income of their parents or carers has changed, they should fill in a change of income form with the Student Loans Company. On the hardship funds, we have worked with the Office for Students so that it can show more flexibility, and the funds will amount to £256 million for the coming academic year.

My constituent, Hannah Moat, is one of the top high-jump athletes in the UK and was on track to study psychology and criminology at Loughborough University. Unfortunately, owing to a clerical error that someone made when inputting her centre-assessed grade, she has so far been denied her place on that course. Will the Minister work with me to make sure that students such as Hannah who have been affected by administrative errors made by their schools will not be denied their place at university?

I am really sorry to hear about the problems that Hannah is experiencing. The exam boards have committed to turning around appeals quickly, and Hannah and her school should inform the university of the situation. I have agreed with all universities that all students, including those successful on appeal, with the required grades will be offered a place at their first-choice university and that deferred places will be offered only as a last resort. Specific admissions cases are the responsibility of individual institutions, but I will alert Loughborough to this case.

I share the serious concerns of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that the annual mass migration of millions of students to university means that significant outbreaks of covid-19 are “highly likely”. Universities have worked hard to make campuses covid secure, but the Department must take responsibility and ownership of this crisis and recognise that most students live, work and socialise outside the campuses. When will universities and communities receive the updated guidance on safe reopening promised in a DFE press release late on Friday night? What additional testing capacity is being deployed to keep staff, students and communities safe, and will the Minister make a statement this week on the safe reopening of universities?

SAGE did indeed publish its updated guidance on Friday, and the Government will issue updated guidance this week that supplements our original guidance of months ago. The safety and wellbeing of university staff and students is always our priority. As SAGE pointed out, there is also evidence that physical and mental health will be impacted if universities do not open. Universities have worked hard to ensure that they are well prepared for covid and have prioritised safety and wellbeing, including by introducing numerous social distancing and covid-secure measures.