Coronavirus (COVID-19) higher education, further education and community learning and development: wider harms

This paper considers the indirect, wider harms of the pandemic on students, learners and staff within the Further Education, Higher Education and Community Learning and Development sectors from the perspective of stakeholders and drawing on the findings or relevant reports relating to these sectors.

5. Financial effects

Covid-19 has produced a major shock to economies around the world and Scotland’s economy has been affected. There are significant financial implications for institutions and us all as individuals. This section describes the financial effects within the university, college and CLD sectors.

Student representatives indicated that many students across Scotland lack sufficient funds to continue with their courses of study, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The November 2021 ‘Thriving Learners’ report, (8), found that 21.5% of students surveyed worried about running out of food, nearly a quarter ate less due to a lack of resources or money and 7.2% were in households that ran out of food. Overall, food poverty among students, particularly older students, is a rising concern. NUS Scotland’s research from July 2021 (17) found that 12% of Scotland’s students are using foodbanks, 27% rely on credit cards, and 9% use bank loans. 72% of students expressed concern about their ability to manage financially. Student representatives explained that the number of cases of student homelessness has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Super Priority Visas and increased costs have harmed students financially, especially international students. Many students are working more hours in employment than are recommended.

University representatives indicated that there has been an increase in the number of staff and students disclosing disabilities and learning needs, resulting in increased support costs. HESA data (13) shows in 2020-21 that 42,135 university students in Scotland had a known disability (15% of all students). This is an increase from 2019-20 when 14% of all students had a known disability. SAAS data for 2020-2021, (18), shows 5,290 full-time students received Disabled Students’ Allowance totalling £10.7 million. An increase from 2019-2020 (5,175 students and £9.8 million). Emergency student funding provided last year was welcomed and made a difference to student retention and engagement. However, only a minority of students had received support from their institutions through discretionary funds.

College representatives reported that the delivery of online learning during the pandemic has brought a focus on digital poverty. Along with financial support from the government, institutions have provided the hardware and data that students need for online learning. However, many students, particularly those from the most disadvantaged groups, simply do not have a safe, nor even adequate place to complete their online learning, and associated costs such as Wi-Fi can be prohibitive. Student representatives indicated that some students are no longer attending online lectures because of Wi-Fi, Pay-As-You-Go data and equipment costs. There are also financial implications for institutions in ensuring digital access for all within future cohorts. There are cost implications associated with IT support including improving captioning and other technologies that should be considered in the context of Scotland’s Digital Strategy where new ways of working are to be designed to meet the needs of the user.

College representatives shared the concern that some individuals will have lost the opportunity to learn new skills at a key point in their lives. This will affect their future career progression and ability to earn. More widely, it will have an impact on the pipeline of skills required by Scotland’s economy. It is important to consider how, at some point in the future, those who have missed out on educational opportunities due to the pandemic can be re-engaged with education later on in life.

CLD representatives reported that many learners have been financially adversely affected by the pandemic. Common issues affecting learners as well as those who financially support them include furlough, unemployment, lack of part-time work availability, unpaid course completion grants, and inability to access childcare.



Back to top