Coronavirus: Universities and colleges in Wales to get £50m help

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image captionUniversities are facing uncertainty over student numbers in September

Universities and colleges in Wales are to receive a £50m support package to soften the impact of coronavirus.

The Welsh Government fund aims to safeguard teaching and research as well as helping students.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said the institutions would play an "important role" in Wales' recovery from the pandemic.

However the National Union of Students (NUS) said it "falls short" of helping students facing financial hardship.

Of the money, £27m will be provided to higher education institutions with £23m to support students in further education colleges and sixth forms.

Ms Williams said the full impact of the pandemic on universities would not be known until the new term in September.

"This funding will provide a vital support to our institutions in their preparations for the autumn," she added.

"Each one will be important in our recovery as they work with schools, business, international partners and public services.

"So we are supporting these major institutions in Welsh life, so they can support students of all ages, and keep playing their part in our recovery."

Where will the money go?

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image captionThe funding aims to secure jobs at Welsh institutions, including Cardiff University

Higher education

The latest UCAS figures showed an increase in applications to Welsh universities from 18-year-olds, the Welsh Government said.

However there are concerns many students may defer to the following year while international students may also be put off studying abroad due to coronavirus.

Some UK universities have even warned they may "go bust" without government help, with a potential fall in research investment from private and charitable sources.

So the Higher Education Investment and Recovery Fund for Wales aims to help maintain jobs in teaching, research and student services, invest in economic recovery and support students suffering financial hardship.

Further education and sixth forms

More than £15m will be provided for learners beginning their A-level or vocational course at an FE college or sixth form, to increase support following the closure of schools and help with their transition to post-16 learning.

The funding will be provided for all full-time learners between 16 and 19 years of age and represents a 5% increase to funding-per-student, the Welsh Government said.

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image captionLectures might have to shift from lecture halls to online lessons to comply with social distancing

Up to £5m will be provided to support vocational learners to return to college to complete licence-to-practice qualifications, without needing to re-sit the full year.

An extra £3.2m will be used to provide digital equipment such as laptops for FE students.

An additional £466,000 will be provided to support students undertaking Independent Living Skills programmes, to enable them to complete their transition from college into employment and independence.

Regional mental health and wellbeing projects and professional development will also receive £100,000.

"Our support for 16 to 19 age students aims to ensure students beginning courses in September are not disadvantaged by the disruption they faced earlier this year," said Ms Williams.

"It is [also] part of our wider measures to ensure we have a skilled workforce that will drive forward the economic recovery from the coronavirus."

What's the reaction?

Reaction to the announcement has been mixed.

Universities Wales said the support was "vital" and comes at a "crucial moment" for universities and colleges.

"This [will] provide stability for our universities and will be reassuring for students who have consistently rated the student experience in Wales as excellent," said chairman Prof Julie Lydon.

image copyrightNUSW
image captionBecky Ricketts said it was "regrettable" students were still tied into tenancies

However NUS Wales said while the announcement gave institutions "much-needed certainty" it had failed to help students directly.

An NUS survey found 78% of students in Wales were worried about their finances because of Covid-19 with almost half who work part-time having lost their income, while many were forced to continue paying rent since March despite returning home.

"It's disappointing that this package does not include ring-fenced funding for student hardship, demand for which has increased during the pandemic and will only worsen in the coming months," said NUS Wales President Becky Ricketts.

However she added: "The funding for FE colleges goes a long way to alleviating our concerns about the disproportionate impact of the virus on vulnerable and digitally excluded students."

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