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Universities spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on extra Covid-19 measures

By Eleanor Busby
Universities are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds each on additional measures due to Covid-19, with one institution forking out £1 million on hardship funds and bursaries for students, figures show.

Institutions spent significant sums of money on remodelling campuses to allow for social distancing and supporting students to return to campus in the autumn, according to figures obtained by Research Professional News.

The figures come as the majority of university students in England have been told to stay at home and not return to campus until at least mid-February, which has prompted calls for greater financial support for students.

Universities UK (UUK) has called on the Government to “seriously consider” the financial implications for students and institutions amid the pandemic

Freedom of Information requests – asking how much was spent between March and September last year on ensuring campuses were Covid-safe – were sent to 57 universities by Research Professional News.

The data reveals that Kingston University spent £2,578,000 on additional measures amid the pandemic – including £1 million on supporting students through extra hardship funds and bursaries.

Meanwhile, Leeds Beckett University spent £251,000 on allowances for eligible students for IT equipment as well as £941,000 on additional hardship funds and bursaries, the analysis suggests.

The university also contributed £35,000 to the local authority’s antisocial behaviour team – which carries out patrols in off-campus areas which have a high proportion of students in residence.

The request also asked for breakdowns, where possible, of the amount of money spent on PPE, signage and communication, screens, hand sanitiser and staff and student testing.

The University of Central Lancashire spent £1,204,000 overall on additional measures – including £7,000 on food parcels for students self-isolating, £101,000 on signage, £21,000 on lanyards and £56,000 on face coverings.

Meanwhile, Coventry University spent £648,000 overall – including £223,000 on remodelling the campus space and signage and £156,000 on extra security staff, marshals and overtime, the data suggests.

The University of Greenwich spent £39,000 on marquees to allow for social distancing, while the University of Brighton spent £313,969 on extra staffing — primarily security for closed campus buildings.

The figures come as a number of universities have taken the decision to move lessons online until even later in the year amid the tighter restrictions, which has sparked calls for tuition fee refunds and rent rebates on student halls.

A spokesperson for the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) said: “The safety and well-being of our students and staff, combined with delivering a quality learning experience, remain our priority as we continue to cope with this national crisis.

“As a result, we have invested approximately £1.2 million across our three UK campuses to support our students and ensure Covid-safe environments for students to study in.”

A Kingston University spokesperson said: “The university has made significant progress in improving its financial position in recent years. This has included refocusing its course portfolio and undertaking a range of activities to enhance academic performance and student experience.

“As a result, despite the increased costs associated with addressing the pandemic – including implementing a number of measures to ensure its campuses are fully Covid-secure, increased investment in technology to support online teaching and learning, and supporting students through additional hardship funds and bursaries – the university’s financial position remains secure.”

A UUK spokeswoman said: “This data reveals the extent of the additional demands faced by universities throughout the course of the pandemic.

“Universities have spent significant amounts on hardship funds, supporting students to have the right equipment and resources to study, and ensuring they have access to online services, from financial support and careers advice to support for mental health and wellbeing.

“Alongside hardship funds and increased student support, in the past year universities have also spent much more than normal on measures to support student and staff safety, including protective equipment, enhanced cleaning regimes and access to testing.

“Now is the time for the Government to seriously consider the financial implications for students and institutions and what support they will provide.”
(PA)

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