COVID-19 - financial implications on the higher education sector

President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts writes about the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on the higher education sector and the steps we're taking to mitigate the risks to the University.

Dear colleague

Over the past week there has been mounting speculation about the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on the higher education sector. Like other universities, we are deeply concerned about the societal and financial consequences of the pandemic.

These are uncertain and challenging times and we cannot underestimate the impact and repercussions the pandemic will have on the sector. Here at Sheffield, we have already seen a loss of revenue, including from our accommodation, campus and conference activity, which has had an immediate impact on our finances. The ongoing restrictions in response to Covid-19 may affect how we can welcome students in the next academic year. We anticipate a significant fall in international student numbers, and there is a risk that some home students may choose to defer their places to the following year. We have to expect, therefore, that our finances will be severely challenged from August.

I want to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to mitigate these very real financial risks and place ourselves in the strongest position possible to ensure our continued success as a leading Russell Group institution. This includes work to consider the potential impacts, plan for all scenarios and be in a position to respond in an agile manner. It is important to me that we are honest and transparent about the work we are doing. I have therefore asked Jo Jones, our Chief Financial Officer, to provide an update on the financial situation here at Sheffield, the steps we are taking and the scenarios we are planning for. This will be shared next week in the Staff Update.

You may have seen Monday's Government announcement about the support available for universities. The support package re-introduces temporary controls on the numbers of students that individual universities can recruit. It also brings forward student loan company payments and some quality-related research funding.

Whilst the accelerated receipts of income are welcome, they do not address the potential loss of income that may arise from Covid-19 or the long-term funding of research. Over the coming weeks, I will be working with others in the sector to respond to these proposals and to explore what other policies and interventions are required. This global pandemic has demonstrated the vital role of universities, from our world-leading research to training the healthcare professionals of the future. We will undoubtedly play an essential part in helping drive the recovery of our economy and our communities as we emerge from the pandemic.

I know that this is a deeply worrying and challenging time, and I want to reiterate my thanks to each and every one of you. Responding to this current crisis will take a University-wide effort, and over the last few weeks I have been impressed by how everyone has risen to the challenge.
Thank you for your support and dedication.

With best wishes,
Koen