Open Letter - Covid-19 demands a rethink of Higher Education funding: End tuition fees and market competition
Covid-19 is a wake-up call for the whole of society.

Higher Education faces an existential financial crisis just as university researchers bend every effort to defeat Covid-19.

The benefits of HE are not just limited to research. Mass education from secondary to university created a scientifically-literate population. They drove the shutdown, demanding Boris Johnson and his Government acted.

But Higher Education itself has been undermined by a combination of Government policy, high tuition fees and management greed.

In 2010, the 'ConDem' Government raised home student undergraduate tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year, and (mostly) abolished block grants. Within three years, mature and part-time student numbers had almost completely collapsed.

Undergraduate numbers were controlled until 2014 when (with the exception of Medicine) the Government removed limits on student recruitment.

This lit the touch paper on a conflagration. For a £9,000 fee, university managers could make easy money out of undergraduate teaching. With no limit on the number of students universities could recruit, many expanded rapidly and built new campuses. But others, mainly post-92 universities, found their student numbers squeezed by intense competition for places in so-called 'top' universities. Brand name, not teaching quality, dominated. Undergraduate expansion encouraged further recruitment of overseas students and taught postgraduate courses, where fees could be even higher. Scottish Universities, not permitted to charge high fees, pursued overseas student recruitment in particular.

Before Covid-19, this system was already teetering on the brink. Universities were reportedly indebted by over £10 billion, and the total UK student loan debt had reached £121 billion by March 2019. Undergraduate student numbers were falling and several universities were rumoured close to bankruptcy.

Covid-19 changes the economic equation. Universities in the UK can now expect a sharp fall in total student numbers in September. Many students will delay applications for a year or two rather than apply for online courses. Some universities are contemplating delaying the start of term until January. It may be several years before the overseas student market recovers.

Already there is talk about bringing back the 'cap' on student numbers, even temporarily. But more drastic action is required to save Higher Education. Unless the Government acts now, the UK will see mass redundancies of university staff.


We the undersigned believe now is the time for a new deal for UK HE.

It is time to end the disastrous market experiment.

It is currently unthinkable that the Conservatives will privatise the NHS. Schools and further education know that their funding for next year is guaranteed.

But Higher Education is uniquely vulnerable to a short-term fall in student recruitment.

We need emergency measures to stop universities going bankrupt. If unemployment rises as a result of a downturn, universities have an essential role to play in re-skilling mature students.

We need to return to the principle that Higher Education should be available to all who can benefit.

We call on the Government to:

1. Abolish the current tuition fee system and underwrite the sector. Bring back the block grant.

2. Work with university managements to safely exit expensive building projects and long-term loans.

3. Agree that in the meantime there should be no redundancies, and staff on fixed term or other casual contracts should be paid as normal and not dismissed.


Initial signatories* include

Carlo Morelli, UCU Scotland President, University of Dundee
Sean Wallis, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, University College London
Julie Hearn, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, Lancaster University
Lesley Kane, UCU NEC, Open University
Deepa Govindarajan Driver, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, University of Reading
Mark Abel, UCU Branch President, UCU NEC, University of Brighton
Marian Mayer, UCU Branch Co-chair, Chair South Region UCU, National Negotiator, Bournemouth University
Sue Abbott, UCU NEC, Chair Equality Committee and Women Members standing Committee, Newcastle University
Pura Ariza, UCU Branch Equality Officer and UCU NEC, Manchester Metropolitan University
Cecily Blyther, UCU NEC, Petroc
Steve Lui, UCU NEC, University of Huddersfield
Lesley McGorrigan, UCU NEC, University of Leeds
Marion Hersh, UCU NEC member, University of Glasgow
Margot Hill, UCU London Region Secretary and UCU NEC, Croydon College
Prof Paul Anderson, UCU Branch Vice President and UCU NEC, QMUL
Christina Paine, UCU Branch Chair and UCU NEC, London Metropolitan University
Jordan Osserman, Postdoctoral Researcher and UCU member, Birkbeck, #coronacontract organiser
Prof Des Freedman, UCU Vice President, Goldsmiths, University of London
Marian Carty, UCU President, Goldsmiths, University of London
Sean Vernell, UCU NEC, City and Islington College
Sandy Nicoll, SOAS UNISON Branch Secretary, UNISON NEC HE General Seat (pc), SOAS University of London
Lauren Heyes-mullan, FE lecturer, The City of Liverpool College
David Whyte, UCU Branch Vice President, University of Liverpool
Bob Jeffery, UCU Anti-Casualisation Officer, Sheffield Hallam University
Annie Jones, UCU Branch Officer, Sheffield Hallam University
Malcolm James, UCU Branch Treasurer, Head of Department of Accounting, Economics & Finance, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Chris Collier, Associate Lecturer, Anglia Ruskin University
Kathryn Dutton. UCU Yorkshire and Humber Region Chair (HE), York St John
Brian O’Sullivan, UCU West Midlands Region Chair, Bournville College
Sunil Banga, UCU Branch Vice President, Lancaster University
Saladin Meckled-Garcia, UCU Branch Vice-President, University College London
Adrian Budd, London South Bank University
Peter Dwyer, University of Warwick
M Yasacan, PhD candidate, University of Keele
Stefanie Doebler, Lancaster University
Leon Sealey-Huggins, Lecturer, UCU Branch Committee member, University of Warwick
Katucha Bento, University of Leeds
Fatima Rajina, Lecturer
Shirin Housee, Course leader in Sociology, University of Wolverhampton
Johanna Loock, University of Leeds
Erik Jellyman, Research Associate, Lancaster University
Joss Winn, Senior Lecturer, UCU Branch Secretary, University of Lincoln
Roddy Slorach, UCU branch organiser, Imperial College London
Richard Mcewan, UCU Branch Sec, UCU NEC Elect, New City College THC Poplar
Michael Rees, Lecturer in Sociology, UCU Rep, University of Wolverhampton
Benjamin Vincent, University of Dundee
Thomas Gallagher-Mitchell, Lecturer, Liverpool Hope University
Rhiannon Lockley, UCU Branch Secretary, Birmingham City University
Samantha Wilson, Student/EAP Tutor, University of Leeds
George Lovell, Lecturer, Abertay University
Yvette Russell, University of Bristol
Ronald Mendel, Associate Lecturer, University of Northampton
Graham Smith, Deputy Subject Leader for Psychology, University of Northampton
David Saunders, Deputy Subject Leader, University of Northampton
Richard Dixon-Payne, Retired HE lecturer
Nils Markusson, UCU Branch Treasurer, Lancaster University
Sonya Andermahr, Reader in English, UCU Equality Rep, University of Northampton
Mark Baxendale, UCU Branch Committee member, Queen Mary University of London
David Swanson, UCU Branch President, University of Manchester
Georg von Graevenitz, Senior Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London
Mike Orr, UCU Branch Committee member, Edinburgh University
Shirin Hirsch, UCU History co-rep, Manchester Metropolitan University
Eamonn Leddy, UCU Branch Secretary, Capital City College Group (Centre for Lifelong Learning)
Nina Doran, UCU H & S rep, City of Liverpool College
Naomi Waltham-Smith, Associate Professor, University of Warwick
Grant Buttars, UCU Branch President, UCU Scotland Executive member, University of Edinburgh
Katie Nicoll Baines, Project Manager, University of Edinburgh
Anne Alexander, UCU Branch Committee member, University of Cambridge
Linda Jorgensen, Lecturer, The City of Liverpool College
Claudia Campbell
Megan Hunt, Teaching Fellow, University of Edinburgh
Nadia Edmond, UCU Branch Chair, Falmer, University of Brighton
Verity Bambury, Lecturer, The City of Liverpool College
Tucker MacNeill, UCU H&S Rep, Falmer, University of Brighton
Penny Hope, Lecturer, City of Liverpool College
Cheryl King, Lecturer, City of Liverpool College
Julie Brennan, Leader of KS 4 provision, City of Liverpool College
Carol Cody, Liaison Secretary, City of Liverpool College
Tony Sullivan, London College of Fashion (UAL) Branch Secretary, University of The Arts London
Ümit Yıldız, UCU Black Members Standing Committee, Manchester University
Andrea Genovese, University of Sheffield
Richard Smith, Reader, University of Warwick
Prof Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London
Anna Robinson, University of East London
Richard Smith, Reader, University of Warwick
Prof Daniel Katz, University of Warwick
Ninna Makrinov, Skills Programme Coordinator, University of Warwick
Emily Heath, UCU Branch Secretary, Lancaster University
Nicholas Lawrence, UCU Environmental Secretary, University of Warwick
Nicola Pratt, Reader, University of Warwick
Prof Vicki Squire, Professor of International Politics, University of Warwick
Lewis Jones, London Metropolitan University
B Weightman, Lecturer
Ron Crump, University of Warwick
Hannah Doyle, Lecturer, City of Liverpool College
Susanne Jones, ESOL Tutor, City of Liverpool College
Stephen Kilpatrick, University of Northampton
Nicole Beardsworth, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Warwick
Geoff Abbott, UCU Branch Treasurer, Newcastle University
Jacqui Mitchell, Retired Lecturer, University of East London
Phillipa Longson, Associate Lecturer, London Metropolitan University
Alastair Smith, Senior Teaching Fellow, UCU Vice Chair, University of Warwick
Glenn Hitchman, Subject Leader, Psychology, University of Northampton
Lynda Wenton, Lecturer, City of Liverpool College
Andrew Marsh, Associate Prof, University of Warwick
Mark Stevenson, Research Associate, Newcastle University
James L Newell, University of Salford
Kerry Nicholson Edge, Lecturer, City of Liverpool College
Tahera Aziz, UCU Branch Membership Secretary, London South Bank University
Jonathan Gilhooly, Lecturer, University of Brighton
Sheila Cullen, Coordinating Committee Secretary, University of Brighton
Carolyn Lewis, Senior Lecturer, University of Brighton
Kirsty McGregor, Lecturer, University of Brighton
Aris Mousoutzanis, Principal Lecturer in Film & Screen Studies, University of Brighton
Christian Hogsbjerg, Lecturer, University of Brighton
Prof Graham Dawson, University of Brighton
Patricia Prieto Blanco, Senior Lecturer, University of Brighton
Emma Fraser, Lecturer, Lancaster University
Alison Findlay, Dept. English & Creative Writing, Lancaster University
Ana Porroche-Escudero, Senior Research Associate, Lancaster University
Lindsay Hallam, Senior Lecturer, University of East London
Federica Frabetti, University of Roehampton
Prof Daniela Treveri Gennari, Oxford Brookes University
Lucie Glasheen, Teaching Associate, Queen Mary University of London
Clare Birchall, Reader, Department of English, King’s College London
Prof Mark Turner, King's College London
Amy De’Ath, Lecturer, King’s College London
Helen Mayall, UCU Branch Committee member, Manchester Metropolitan University
Mig Farinas-Almeida, UCU Branch Co-Secretary, University of Greenwich
Ian Swift, University of Dundee
Andrew Swiffin, UCU Branch committee member, University of Dundee
Roy Webster, University of Brighton
Rachel Humphris, Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London
Andy Yuille, Lecturer, Lancaster University
Lesley Catchpowle, UCU Retirement Rep, Senior lecturer, University of Greenwich
Seán Birnie, Technical Demonstrator, University of Brighton
Ine van Dooren, Moving Image Archivist, University of Brighton
Rowland Curtis, Lecturer, Queen Mary, University of London
Vincent Hiribarren, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
Michael Collins, Senior Lecturer, Kings College London
Danielle Turton, Lecturer in Linguistics, Lancaster University
Alpesh Maisuria, Associate Professor, Uwe Bristol
Jo Tomkinson, Post-doctoral researcher, SOAS University of London
Sreya Banerjea, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Recent PhD graduate, SOAS, University of London
Ashraf, PhD student, SOAS
Howard Feather, The Open University
Mic Porter, Associate Lecturer, The Open University
Kevin Church, Curriculum Manager, The Open University
Roger Wallace, Associate Lecturer, The Open University
Julian Ziegler, Senior IT Developer, The Open University
Jin Nye Na, The Open University
Roger Bradley, Associate Lecturer, Open University
Ruth Ballardie, UCU Co- Branch Secretary, University of Greenwich
Andrew Garvin, The Open University
Pam Currie, Associate Lecturer, Open University
Eilidh Porrelli, Trade Union Organiser, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS trade union)
Catherine Aicken, Research Fellow, University of Brighton
Elizabeth Elliott, UCU Branch ULR, University of Aberdeen
Tony Brown, UCU Branch Secretary, University College London
Mark Colpus, Senior Lecturer, University of Greenwich
Rachel O'Neill, Research Fellow, University of Warwick
Bee Hughes, UCU Branch Committee, Sessional Lecturer, Liverpool John Moores University
Prof Jo Brewis, The Open University
Rose Wilson, UCU Branch Committee Member, City and Islington College
Christian Heitsch, UCU Branch Committee Member, Senior Lecturer, Brunel University London
Eileen Cook, EIS/ULA Lecturer in Economics, Scotland's Rural College (recently retired)
Peter Wilkin, Reader, Brunel University London
Ozge Ozduzen, Brunel University London
Stephen Smith, Senior Lecturer, Brunel University
David Nasseri, Lecturer, Scotland's Rural College
Jasbinder S. Nijjar, PhD Student, Brunel University London
Sanjay Sharma, Brunel University London
Geoff Taylor, UCU member, EFL teacher (adults & EAP), International College, St Clare's Oxford
Robert Leek, Lecturer, University of Birmingham
Daniel Elphick, UCU Branch Committee Member, Royal Holloway, University of London
Peter Woodward, UCU Rep., Imperial College London
Heike Schaumberg, UCU Anti-Casualisation Rep, former post-doc researcher, University of Reading
Chris Downs, Associate Lecturer, The Open University
Muhammad Azizuddin, Senior Teacher, Newcastle University London
Marius Kwint, Reader in Visual Culture, University of Portsmouth
Allister Mactaggart, UCU Branch Chair, Chesterfield College
Rowan Campbell, UCU Branch Vice-President, PhD student, Cardiff University
Maria Vasquez-Aguilar, UCU Branch Chair, City Lit college
Naina Kent, London Regional Committee Equality Rep, HALT, Adult Education
Peter D. Thomas, Brunel University London
Leon Sealey-Huggins, Lecturer, UCU Branch Committee Member, University of Warwick
Lucia Pradella, King's College London
Paul Banham, Pre-sessional Tutor, University of Nottingham


*Please note that signatures will not appear automatically.

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