Mayor calls for further support for region’s universities

Dan Jarvis

The Government must go further to secure the futures of universities experiencing financial challenges due to Coronavirus, Mayor Dan Jarvis has said.

Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson has announced a package of measures to stabilise university admissions this autumn and to help ensure institutions and students are safeguarded.

The measures include new temporary student number controls, as well as bringing forward £100m in research support and £2.6bn of tuition fee income, enabling universities to better manage financial risks in the coming months.

But Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said while the measures may deal with short-term financial instability, the announcement falls far short of a sustainable programme of support.

He said: “Here in the Sheffield City Region, as in other areas across the UK, higher education is crucial to our communities, our economy, and our way of life.

“I was reminded of the importance of our universities when I addressed hundreds of University of Sheffield medical students, graduating early to immediately join the front line of the fight against Coronavirus.

“That’s just a small example of the huge civic, economic and cultural contribution both our universities make to our region – and this contribution cannot be put at risk.

“At a time when we are facing immense challenges on so many fronts, not least in our education system, we need to be creating a more sustainable framework for the future, where the interface between nurseries, schools, colleges and universities is more holistically knitted together.

“Now is the time to make those changes and work better, together. But we cannot do that if our institutions are on the back foot and lurching into a financial crisis.

“If we are to emerge quickly and more resilient from this crisis, it will be because of the decisions taken now to protect and preserve some of our great regional and national assets.

“It’s therefore down to Government to do more to support our universities here.

“That support could come in many forms; such as through a financial package, by ensuring that international students can access visas so students will be able to take up places in the UK, and by supporting the research capabilities of these two fantastic institutions.”

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are members of the Mayor’s Covid-19 economic response group, established to lead the region’s economic fightback.

The universities also work with the Sheffield City Region on region-wide civic, social and cultural schemes, such as South Yorkshire Futures, as well as together driving forward work through institutions such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre.

They fear a slump in international student numbers will have a huge knock-on effect for South Yorkshire’s economy.

Sheffield Hallam University vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Chris Husbands, said: “The package announced by the Government is a helpful start. But this must be the first phase of support.

“Universities have been vital in this critical response phase and can be critical to the recovery phase.

“Once institutions are secure, which is currently far from certain, they could be a lifeline to cities and town devastated by the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 supporting reskilling, businesses and innovation through research and breaking down inequalities.”

Professor Koen Lamberts, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “Universities have played a significant role in the regional, national and global fightback against coronavirus, re-prioritising medical and societal research, innovating to design and manufacture vital medical equipment and supporting final year medical students to graduate early and join the NHS frontline.

“As anchor institutions, we take seriously our responsibility to steady the ship through turbulent times and will continue to do all we can to support our region’s people, businesses and economy as we move into the recovery phase of this pandemic.

“While we welcome the Government’s support package for universities and students, this must only be a first step in safeguarding the skills and expertise that universities provide.”