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House of Commons Hansard
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Covid-19: Scottish Universities
20 May 2020
Volume 676
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What recent discussions he has had with the Education Secretary in the Scottish Government on the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on Scottish universities. [902841]

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Higher Education in Scotland is, for the most part, a devolved responsibility. However, the UK Government very much recognise the difficulties faced by students, staff, and institutions across the UK, and we are working closely with the sector. The Department for Education has been engaging closely with ministerial and official colleagues in Scotland to discuss a range of higher education areas affected by the covid-19 outbreak.

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Further and higher education needs to adapt to the long-term consequences of covid-19 in much the same way as our schools and other public services do. Although the crisis has taught us how well long-distance learning can be employed, will my right hon. Friend agree to discuss with the Scottish Government how such lessons can be implemented in the future to provide valuable education and, importantly, value for money for undergraduates and postgraduates?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Department for Education has been engaging closely with ministerial and official colleagues in Scotland to discuss a range of higher education areas that are affected by covid-19. I am also pleased to say that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), is meeting Universities Scotland’s funding policy group later this week.

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We now come to Chris Elmore in his new role on the Front Bench.

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Scotland’s 19 universities are not immune to the financial hardship caused by the pandemic. They currently face immediate in-year losses of £72 million, and Universities Scotland anticipates that 18 of Scotland’s 19 universities will go on to report deficits in this financial year. May I press the Secretary of State further on what work he will do as part of a UK Government working with the Scottish Government to ensure that any detrimental impact to universities across Scotland is dealt with and that universities are supported and helped in relation to the pandemic?

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Funnily enough, I have spoken to the Education Secretary on that very subject. The UK Government are providing considerable funds to support research by Scottish universities, as indeed they do for other universities in the UK. Regarding the shortfall for universities, which I believe has been highlighted, I am told that that is largely due to the policy of the Scottish Government over the past 10 years of giving free tuition to Scottish nationals and charging English students and overseas students more. I have to say that that element of the budget is, and always has been, devolved and it is absolutely the responsibility of the Scottish Government to rectify that problem.