What is higher education in the UK

University crisis in Great Britain : British universities on the brink

Studying has always been expensive fun in the UK, especially in England. Students pay a maximum of 9,000 pounds (almost 10,000 euros). Few of them have the money at hand. In March 2019, student loans outstanding totaled £ 121 billion.

It will soon be even more expensive for EU citizens, because because of the Brexit, they will lose their fee status for locals from the academic year 2021/22.

That means potentially: Instead of around 9,000 pounds, depending on the subject, it is between 10,000 and 38,000 pounds a year, i.e. a maximum of almost 42,000 euros. That was decided by Boris Johnson's government in June.

Fees even in lockdown

The universities can determine the exact amount of the fees themselves. But future students shouldn't get too many hopes for this: Most universities are now using the maximum amount, at least in England.

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The changes affect a large number of students: According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs, 139,150 EU citizens studied in the UK in 2017/18 - a total of 458 490 international students spent the year at universities in the UK.

The pandemic is now facing UK universities with the consequences of a higher education system built on the shoulders of its students. Fourteen percent of their total income comes from fees from foreign students alone.

But although the universities in Great Britain will remain closed until at least September and the courses will take place online, the fees will not be waived for this year or the coming year.

Our reports on the corona situation at universities

38,000 pounds to study online

Up to 38,000 pounds for a purely online course - that seems to be quite excessive to many. According to reports from the Guardian, some universities were already assuming that the number of their international students would drop by 80 to 100 percent at the beginning of the pandemic. The result: the universities now have to fear for their existence.

According to Peter Dolton, economics professor at Sussex University, the majority of universities get around 75 percent of their income from tuition fees. Dolton writes in his paper for the National Institute of Economic and Social Research that many universities calculated that up to 75 percent of their international and 20 percent of local students will not continue their studies for the time being because of the pandemic in September.

That means, according to Dolton, that all British universities, with the exception of Oxford and Cambridge, would face extreme financial difficulties, up to and including possible bankruptcy.

In addition to smaller universities, those of the elite “Russell Group” - including the universities of Edinburgh, Durham and Exeter - are particularly affected. These collect an average of 45 percent of their fees from international students.

There are no international tuition fees

The University and College Union (UCU) warns that a lack of tuition fees alone could lose £ 2.5 billion in higher education next year and about 30,000 jobs in the university sector if the pandemic is not brought under control.

This year alone, the universities will lose 790 million pounds, according to this report, which they would otherwise earn through student dormitories as well as conferences and the operation of canteens. In the 2021/22 academic year, losses from eliminating 100 percent of international tuition revenue could amount to £ 6.9 billion.

Given these numbers, Universities UK, the syndicate of British universities, asked the government for £ 2.2 billion to cushion the losses. This refused with little enthusiasm and only granted them 100 million pounds for direct funding of ongoing research projects. It also approved an advance on college tuition loans of £ 2.6 billion. This corresponds to ten percent of the income from tuition fees.

A survey by the British Council shows that the prospects for students are not exactly rosy: up to 50 percent of postgraduates who wanted to come to Great Britain are now thinking of postponing their studies, and 20 percent are even thinking of looking for another place to study. According to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the university sector could in the worst case lose as much as 19 billion pounds - half of its annual income. The best case scenario is a loss of three billion pounds.

Layoffs to compensate for losses

But a vicious circle threatens: to make up for the losses, layoffs will be pending. If there are fewer staff, the quality of the teaching will suffer - even less incentive for future students to invest exorbitant sums in online studies if individual support can no longer be guaranteed. In the meantime, there are even considerations to merge some universities that have got into financial difficulties - as if they were companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy.

In the corona crisis, as in numerous areas of society, the consequences of systemic problems are also evident in the British university sector. A university landscape that is extremely capitalist and only enables the more than affluent part of society to study, is inevitably dependent on the income from the tuition fees of wealthy students from abroad. International students from countries outside the European Union are particularly lucrative for the universities.

So far this has not been a problem: According to economist Dolton, the number of Chinese students rose from 25,000 in 2016 to almost 90,000 in 2019. A threefold increase in income through corresponding tuition fees - which are now in danger of being lost in large parts.

Johnson's government is convinced that its package of measures will absorb the losses. It is believed that the quality of UK universities will continue to attract large numbers of international students.

At least 13 universities are fighting for survival

But if even Oxford and Cambridge have to reckon with falling numbers of Bachelor students next year - what will become of less prestigious institutions that can fall back on fewer donors and lower financial reserves? According to the IFS, the prospects are bleak: For at least 13 universities, it is a matter of bare survival - without adequate funding from the government, they are on the verge of collapse.

The government has now - so far little noticed by the British media - increased the subsidy for research from 100 to 280 million pounds, at least as far as one can see from a rather vague press release on the government website. However, these funds should only be available to “research-intensive” universities; which are meant by this or which criteria apply will not be revealed.

The funds are also intended primarily for the natural and technical sciences and medicine - not a trace of the already battered humanities. Just as nebulous remain the promised long-term loans for the very universities that are supposed to compensate for “up to 80 percent” of the loss of international students.

Education policy of the Tories takes revenge

Critics say the IFS calculations are too pessimistic and only apply to a second wave of Covid. As the corona crisis has gone so far in the United Kingdom, however, it would do well to potentially prepare for precisely this worst case scenario for the winter.

In any case, the education policy of the Tories is now taking revenge: Those who cut state aid in the education sector as much as in recent years are making themselves dependent on international students who can afford the high fees. Even before the corona pandemic, the financial situation of some English universities was precarious. Nobody had a pandemic on the bill. The receipt for this is coming now. As in business, Great Britain is now threatened with a big crash at universities. The pandemic is practically the crowning glory of Brexit.

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