Scots universities get £75m; UK urged to do more

The Scottish Government on Wednesday announced a one-off £75 million increase in funding for Scotland’s universities “to ensure they can protect their world-leading research programmes” against the financial impact of Covid-19.

And it urged the UK Government to announce a UK investment and support package for Higher Education (HE).

“The significant intervention will help secure the jobs and training needed to support ongoing and future research work, meaning institutions can concentrate fully on planning the long-term future of a sector so vital to the Scottish economy,” said the Scottish Government.

“Universities will also be expected to adapt and use their own resources, as well as the packages of support for businesses provided by the UK Government, to counter the effects of the pandemic on research operations.

“The new funding will replace lost research income, protect research jobs, and help universities focus more effort on the high priority research needed to fight the outbreak and to support society and the economy, post COVID-19.”

Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, has written to his UK Government counterpart Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Universities, calling for a UK investment and support package for Higher Education (HE).

He said such a package should include additional financial support for universities “to ensure they and their graduates can continue to play a key role in the UK’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic.”

Scottish university income has been significantly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, most notably by a loss of international student income, cancelled conference bookings, and returned accommodation fees.

Recent Scottish Funding Council (SFC) analysis said Scottish universities face a loss of around £72 million due to Covid-19 this academic year alone, with a collective operating deficit of between £384 million and £651 million forecast for next academic year.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Our world-renowned university research activities are under threat from COVID-19, from a loss of university income to the risk to jobs and investment.  

“That research is critical to Scotland’s future public health and prosperity. 

“So we are investing now to protect our research sector’s excellence, with £75 million of additional funding, as we plan together for the future sustainability of Scotland’s society and economy as a whole.

“We are taking a partnership approach, talking to the universities and staff unions, as we build up our response.

“For the universities’ part, they are stepping up with a willingness to use part of this investment to support PhD students whose studies have been impacted by Covid-19.  

“Now we need the UK Government to join those efforts. So far, their main interventions have been focused on the HE sector south of the border.

“We need the UK Government to take a UK approach and join with Scottish universities and the Scottish Government to build a support package that will protect the sector from the impact of this virus.”

The additional funding will be administered by the SFC.  

SFC chief executive Karen Watt said: “This is very welcome additional funding for research in Scotland. 

“We will work closely with the sector to ensure it helps universities continue with vital research, including the response to Covid-19, and contributions to our subsequent recovery.” 

Universities Scotland Convenor Professor Andrea Nolan said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s recognition of the role research and innovation will play in supporting business and industry and strengthening our post Covid-19 economy and society.

“The pace of this commitment, and the injection of confidence it will give the research community within the sector, is very welcome.

“We will work closely with Government and the Scottish Funding Council to ensure this resource has the most impact, including support for our PhD students, who are our pipeline of talent for future research and who have been adversely affected by the instability created by the pandemic.”