Top unis accused of ‘profiting from students’ misery’ after racking up £2.2bn surplus

The revelations have sparked renewed calls for tuition refunds

The UK’s top universities racked up a £2.2 billion cash surplus in the academic year 2020-21, according to new analysis conducted by The Telegraph.

All but two members of the Russell Group ran a surplus, with nine unis improving their financial performance on the previous year.

The country’s top higher education institutions were also given £115m in furlough money from the government. Some members of the Russell Group such as the University of London and Queen Mary decided not to access the furlough scheme due to the healthy condition of their finances.

The revelations have sparked renewed calls for students to be given refunds for their tuition.

Chair of the education select committee Robert Halfon said: “What better use for these surplus could there be than to give students their money back who haven’t had proper face to face teaching?”

Co-founder of campaign group UsForThem Molly Kingsley agreed, saying: “The first thing to do is to offer the students and then the taxpayer a refund. Why are universities profiting from students’ misery?”

Commenting on the surpluses director of the Higher Education Policy Institute Nick Hillman said: “These surpluses are what you would expect of an institution in normal times – but it is extraordinary relative to the predictions of the sector at the start of the crisis.

“There was a fear early in the crisis that the Russell Group universities would be the worst affected because of international students not coming and they are the ones that pay the really high fees.

“But in reality the international students have kept coming and because of grade inflation home students have flocked to Russell Group universities too.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) branded the surpluses “appalling,” adding: “It’s completely unfathomable that so many universities have profited throughout the pandemic.

“Whilst students were accessing food banks, being threatened with evictions and visa withdrawals, universities continued to put students last.”

A Russell Group spokesperson said unis “worked hard to prioritise students and provide the best possible experience.” This involved “investing significantly in digital learning and increasing wider support services.”

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