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Coronavirus: Call for Government to support universities

By Richard Guttridge | Wolverhampton | Coronavirus | Published: | Last Updated:

A senior figure at the University of Wolverhampton has called for funding from the Government to make up for what will be lost due to the coronavirus crisis.

Vice chancellor Professor Geoff Layer at the university's Telford campus

Vice chancellor Geoff Layer said the university faced an "immense" challenge and there was uncertainty about how students and finances would be affected.

He said it was possible fewer students would enrol for next academic year, meaning the university would take a hit to its finances.

Leaders have agreed refund residential fees for the final part of the year for students who had been staying in accommodation but have chosen to go home. The lockdown means other revenue streams will also be lost.

Around 500 University of Wolverhampton students are staying in halls of residence. Bosses said they would not be enforcing social distancing as students are adults and should be trusted to follow the Government guidance.

Efforts are also being made to convert exams to assignment where possible, the vice chancellor said.

The university, which has campuses in Bilston and Telford, will also be playing a leading role in the battle to defeat the virus, by distributing testing equipment to the NHS and applying for a licence to manufacture ventilators, as well as producing hand gels and sanitisers during this time of great need.

Vice chancellor Geoff Layer

Mr Layer admitted there were huge uncertainties about the next academic year.

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He said: "At the moment we're in a situation where the Government is trying to work out, what is the best thing to do?

"So we are taking a very strong view that we will work within the Government guidance. We won't seek to short circuit anything.

"Some universities have converted their offers to unconditional offers. We will work within Government guidance, we will not seek any institutional benefit. We're more bothered about the health, the safety, the wellbeing of people, and getting them to the right place.

"We're in touch with applicants saying we're waiting for the guidance but we want them to rest assured the University of Wolverhampton will do everything it can to provide the opportunities they are looking for and I've no doubt we will be able to accept and offer a place to people who want to come here."

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He added: "We're ringing round our students, emailing our students, 'are you ok? If you're not ok can you tell us? We might be able to help you'.

"We have got a lot of worried students out there, people saying 'I've got to look after the kids, I've got to do the assignments', and the message to them has always been the same: just do your best, we will look after you."

Mr Layer said called for communication from the Government over financial support available to universities.

He said a "period of stability" was crucial, suggesting the Government should top up any funds lost as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, particularly if a recession is to follow.

He said: "We expect if student numbers go down for there to be less cash.

"What we would like to see is a year of stability, so everybody gets what they had in 19/20, let's not have any increases let's have a period of stability."

"It will be (topped up) in most walks of life. The university will be a major part of the recovery and we need to be able to have a resource to do it, so stability will enable us to do it."

The vice chancellor said he did not envisage any circumstances in which students would be reimbursed, or have to pay back less of their loans, due to the disruption as most courses were continuing online.

He said: "I don't see it happening. The number of weeks left was not that significant, we were half way through the second semester. The online has lots of chat facilities in it. We are providing a lot of resource."

On the scale of the challenge facing the university, he added: "The challenges are quite immense and the staff response has been fantastic.

"But the challenges are around the uncertainty, the unchartered waters and getting through the immediacy and also planning for the next stage, the recovery phase. We have got to be prepared for that and manage the current situation."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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