Weekly news roundup: UK VCs push for reopening, and US HE gets funding boost

By Nicole Wootton-Cane• Last updated: Oct 31, 2023
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Across the world this week, university leaders and students alike are worried about their finances during the pandemic. 

In the UK, over 24,000 international students have signed a petition asking for compensation due to online learning, and in the US, Congress approved $40 billion in extra HE funding due to the pandemic. 

However, New Zealand appears to be bucking the trend of falling student numbers, with domestic student recruitment rising at multiple institutions.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup. 

UK universities start gradual reopening

This week saw children return to school, and students on practical courses return to university, in England’s first easing of coronavirus restrictions since Christmas. 

However, the outlook for other university students remains unclear, as the government has yet to set a date for all students to be allowed on campus. 

University leaders are pushing for all students to be allowed to return from 12 April, as the end of the academic year approaches. 

But for many, the damage of a year online has already been done, with some international students beginning to demand compensation for the impact that covid restrictions have had on their learning. 

An online petition set up by international students studying in the UK is asking for the government to provide at least partial tuition fee compensation due to the “massive impact on quality of teaching and student experience of International students”.

The petition has gained over 24,000 signatures, meaning that it will get a government response. 

However, with no precedent for already financially stretched universities refunding students, the possibility of compensation seems slim. 

US Congress approves $40bn extra funding for HE

The US Congress has agreed to provide $40 billion more in funding for higher education as part of the recently approved coronavirus relief bill.

The extra funds will be delivered on an institution by institution basis, and are intended to help with some of the financial shortfalls universities have suffered as a result of the pandemic. 

“The nearly $40 billion included for students and campuses will be enormously helpful,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, the central advocacy group. “But this emergency is not over for either higher education or the country as a whole.”

And a new US immigration bill will allow for ‘dual intent’ for international students, in a move that is intended to allow more flexibility for international students to stay in the country after graduating. 

Currently, those applying for an F-1 visa must prove their intention to leave the country after completing their course, meaning those who cannot prove this can see their visas denied. 

However, the introduction of dual intent provision could allow international students who intend to work in the US after graduating not to be penalised for their intent to stay.

“The dual intent provision is pretty big and I’m hopeful that that is going to be helpful in sending a welcoming message to international students,” Sarah Spreitzer director, government relations at the American Council of Education, told The PIE News.

“We do allow for dual intent on other visa programs, but it hasn’t been included for F-1’s before. And so this means that a student is not going to have to show that they have property in their home country to demonstrate evidence that they plan to return.”

New Zealand sees pandemic-driven rise in domestic students

New data shows that universities in New Zealand and Australia may have seen increased enrollments due to the pandemic, in a reversal of the global trend of falling student numbers.

Universities have seen an overall decrease in international student numbers, but figures from institutions such as the University of Otago indicate that this is being at least partially cushioned by an increase in domestic student enrollments. 

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