Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic our colleges and universities have responded with remarkable pace and agility and I pay tribute to all staff and students for their hard work and contribution to the national effort to tackle the virus.
Colleges and universities themselves are being hit hard by the consequences of the pandemic. This is of particular concern given the economic and social importance of them as educators, innovators and major employers. In both urban and rural areas they are key “anchor organisations”, as recognised by the report of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery. We will need our colleges and universities more than ever going forward given their essential role in Scotland’s recovery.
The Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) projections for Scottish colleges point to a loss of £12.3 million due to COVID-19 in this academic year, with the majority of colleges now forecasting deficits in Academic Year (AY) 2019-20. The impact in AY 2020-21 is expected to be even more severe.
The SFC’s initial analysis is that the impact on Scottish universities in AY 2019-20 alone will be around £72 million in lost income. In AY 2020-21, an operating deficit of between £384 million and £651 million is expected, a large part of which is due to the anticipated reduction in the numbers of international students. We do not yet know to what extent these predictions will become reality but we must plan for these scenarios.
Our further and higher education sectors also face the significant challenge of Brexit on top of COVID-19. The end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020, which the UK Government has chosen not to extend, is expected to bring further adverse impacts.
Addressing the scale of impact, especially as it becomes clearer in coming months, must be a shared and on-going endeavour between the Scottish and UK Governments, SFC and other agencies, Colleges Scotland, Universities Scotland and the institutions themselves.
This plan brings together the key immediate actions we have taken but we recognise that further support and actions will be necessary once the full impact is apparent so that colleges and universities can come through this unprecedented crisis and be key players in the nation’s recovery.
Richard Lochhead MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science