Press release

Protect and support public service provision at universities to rebuild Britain

29 Apr 2020

Universites UK and MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, are today (29 April) outlining proposals for the government’s consideration to protect and support key public service provision at universities. The proposal explicitly builds on Universities UK’s stabilisation plan submitted to the government three weeks ago, which called for investment to support university finances in the crisis and offered to work with the government to take forward “targeted support to protect and sustain courses that meet the national need for key workers”.

The Covid-19 crisis has thrown a spotlight on our vital key public service workers – particularly those in medicine, nursing, teaching, allied health professions, and social work. Such professions will be increasingly vital as the nation begins to heal in the months ahead.

Universities will be hit hard financially by the crisis, placing the vital provision of, among others, medical, social work and teacher training at risk. Without further action, training capacity may well not meet future needs.

Working with universities, the government could take a major stride towards mitigating against future capacity shortfalls with a simple three-pronged approach:

  • Supporting students and graduates to become key workers in public services, by offering a maintenance grant of up to £10,000 for all students in training, removing any recruitment caps, and providing fee-loan forgiveness for those remaining in the relevant professions for at least five years.
  • Strengthening and enhancing key public service HE capacity in universities by increasing the funding to the Office for Students to reflect the added costs while creating a new Public Services in Higher Education Capital Fund to enable universities to invest in simulation equipment, additional staff costs and other infrastructure.
  • Retaining and developing key workers in public services, by increasing general staffing budgets and creating a new professional development programme focused on enhancing skills of current key workers in public services and the new NHS volunteer reserve.

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University, said:

“Our universities and their students are vital assets to the UK. Our world-leading hubs of teaching and research have stepped up to the plate during the coronavirus crisis, supplying equipment, know-how and front-line staff to hospitals all over the country.

“It is critically important that universities have the resources to train the next generation of workers in these key areas so that we can meet future needs.”

Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Chair of MillionPlus and a Universities UK Board member, said:

“Universities need this support to be reciprocated from the government to help meet what is certain to be increased demand for these key public servants, as we work together to rebuild Britain. The overall UUK stabilisation package is essential to this – these proposals build on that plan’s explicit call for targeted support to sustain courses essential for our future national needs. These proposals could go a long way to honouring the government’s election pledge to boost the NHS and help levelling up across the entire country, as, slowly but surely, Britain heals and a kind of normality returns.”


Notes to editors

  1. For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Dan Blows on 020 3927 2916 or email
  2. Strengthening and enhancing UK public services in response to Covid-19 is available here
  3. The UUK Achieving stability in the higher education sector following COVID-19 proposal is available here. Section C.i reads: “To mitigate the impact on the supply of highly skilled employees across all areas of the UK (including public services), and preserve student choice: Targeted support to protect and sustain courses that meet the national need for key public sector workers, maintain high-cost STEM provision and facilitate planned growth in 2020-21 and 2021-22 in key areas such as nursing, healthcare, medicine, teaching and expansion of level 4/5 skills provision.”
  4. Universities UK is the collective voice of 137 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. Visit: 
  5. MillionPlus is the Association for Modern Universities in the UK, and the voice of 21st century higher education. We champion, promote and raise awareness of the essential role and impact of modern universities in the UK’s world-leading higher education sector. More information can be found at
  6. What are modern universities? Modern universities are long established centres of higher education in their communities with roots that stretch back decades, if not centuries. Many gained university title following legislation agreed by parliament in 1992. They make up almost half of the UK university sector with over a million students studying at modern universities every year. Modern universities: facts and stats

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