“Swift action” is needed by the Welsh Government to stop a financial crisis from engulfing universities, a Member of the Senedd has said.
Plaid Cymru’s shadow economy minister Helen Mary Jones said the universities were “pillars of the Welsh economy” but were in danger of “crumbling” due to Covid-19.
Today the Education Secretary Kirsty Williams published a plan to get post-16 education back up and running in Wales.
The plan includes “making sure providers have security of funding and immediate arrangements for continuity of learning are in place,” but did not mention specifics.
Welsh universities provide 17,300 full time jobs, 50,000 other jobs rely on them, and they provide almost 5% of Welsh GVA and a third of our research and development spending.
But a recent report from Wales Governance Centre showed that Welsh universities faced losing between £84–140 million in the coming academic year from losses in fees alone.
“Plaid Cymru has long warned that the financial position of Welsh higher education was precarious,” Helen Mary Jones said.
“We agree with the Welsh Government that this current crisis is an economic emergency as well as a public health one.
“The current measures outlined by Welsh Government, by their own admission, won’t be enough to secure our HE sector. Reprofiling student loans for example, won’t necessarily be helpful after the first few months of the next academic year, due to the reliance of universities on regular fees throughout the year.
“Our Welsh Universities are a pillar of our economic structure and a lack of swift action by Welsh Government will mean that this pillar is in danger of crumbling.
“I’ve said before that this threat is about as big as it gets and therefore we believe that if the UK Government won’t step in, then the Welsh Government must.”
The Welsh Government plan published today said that students and apprentices may have to continue attending virtual classes online for “some time”.
Welsh Universities switched to online teaching in March as the coronavirus lockdown came into force.
Yesterday the University of Cambridge in England became the first in the UK to announce that there would be no face-to-face lectures over the course of the next academic year due to coronavirus.
However, lectures will be available to students online and “it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person” if they meet social distancing requirements, the university said.