Universities taught hard lessons in financial fight for survival

The remaining £350m will come from a drop-off in entrants from the European Union, whose attendance will collapse by 47pc next year.

This leaves the country’s institutions in an extremely precarious situation, with three quarters of universities facing a “critical financial position where income only just covers expenditure”.

Evidence suggests the bleeding has already commenced. The University of Roehampton announced last week that it would become the first institution to make staff redundant. At least 15pc of the university’s academic posts will be cut.

All told, the rapidly approaching hit to higher education could result in 30,000 jobs being lost at universities, with an additional 30,000 jobs evaporating in local communities. This will trigger a £6bn hit to the UK economy.

In the US, the situation is similarly grave. “Everything I’ve heard from the universities is that they’re forecasting, at best, no new incoming international students,” says Daniel Hurley, chief of the Michigan Association of State Universities. “That’s not just a one-year hit, that’s a four-year hit. Those students would typically be enrolled for four years, so that’s a negative on the balance sheet for several years.”

For many students, the prospect of taking on as much as £40,000 in debt at a time of global upheaval is unpalatable. This is made worse by the fact traditional drivers of university enrolment – the social life, networking and face-to-face teaching – have disappeared. “Unless they slash the fees, I’ll be joining the list of students who have deferred,” says one student due to start their degree in September. “There’s no way in hell I’m distance learning after these last few weeks.”

Being asked to pay for full tuition to simply watch lectures online is not appealing, another student adds. Deferrals – where a student who has a place at a university pushes their joining date back by a year – have already begun to soar.

More than 111,000 applicants, or one in six, who were due to start their degrees this year have said they will wait until 2021, in the hope that some semblance of normality will have returned to collegiate life. But other students, who were on the fence about going to university before the onset of coronavirus, are likely to be lost forever, experts predict.

Meanwhile job vacancies for graduates are drying up at an unprecedented rate:

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