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Universities in West Midlands facing 'unprecedented' financial challenges

By Peter Madeley | Telford | Education | Published:

Universities across the region are bracing themselves for the financial challenges of Covid-19 – as it emerged higher education courses received a record number of applications during lockdown.

The University of Wolverhampton

The sector is facing a series of challenges in the wake of the pandemic, including a likely reduction in overseas students and a Government cap to student numbers.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested some universities could go bust without a government bail out, with 13 institutions predicted to end up with negative reserves by 2024.

University leaders have raised concerns about a potential loss of revenue if foreign students choose to stay away.

The picture looks better on the home front however, with university admissions service Ucas reporting a record 40.5 per cent of all 18-year-olds in the UK have applied to go to university this year – with numbers rising significantly during lockdown.

Staffordshire University said Covid-19 had presented many challenges for the sector, some of which were financial. They included the 'student number control', which Ministers have brought in to stop "over-recruitment".

A spokesman said: "Staffordshire University is not overly reliant on international enrolments to remain viable in the immediate term. However, the student number control applied does present some financial challenges. Our main focus remains our students and we are working hard to ensure that they get the best possible experience in the coming academic year."

Birmingham City University's Prof Philip Plowden

Professor Philip Plowden, vice chancellor of Birmingham City University, said they had seen "very high levels of interest" from both home and international students.

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"We have made a clear commitment that the majority of teaching will be face-to-face and the we will also be supporting the extra activities and services such as careers, and clubs and societies, that our students value so highly," he added.

"We know it has been a stressful time for many students. We look forward to welcoming our new students in September and our focus is preparing our campuses to be safe and welcoming for them."

The University of Wolverhampton's vice-chancellor, Professor Geoff Layer, said they were in a "financially stable" position, with demand for courses continuing to grow.

But he said the sector was preparing for "unprecedented challenges" as a result of the pandemic and the dire economic climate.

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Professor Geoff Layer, from the University of Wolverhampton

"Our home undergraduate applications are up and we have seen increases in home postgraduate applications and our international applications," he said.

"The safety of our students and staff is our top priority and we are working hard to prepare our campuses for the return of students in September.

"This involves preparing for the managed reopening of facilities with social distancing measures in place and delivering our teaching via ‘blended learning’ which consists of a mixture of digital learning and face-to-face delivery.

"However, the higher education sector as a whole is facing unprecedented challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the current economic climate.

"These include student recruitment for the next academic year, the impact of social distancing on teaching and international travel restrictions.

"We are planning ahead to ensure the university is prepared to tackle these challenges."

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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