As nearly a million university students start term this month, UK medical schools face a perfect storm of financial problems that could dramatically affect student education, according to a special report by the BMJ.
Letters seen by the BMJ show the situation is so dire that medical schools are asking staff to consider voluntary pay reductions, early retirement, redundancy, or changes to clinical academic contracts to cope with budget constraints.
In July, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that the COVID-19 crisis posed a considerable financial threat to universities, with estimated losses of around £11 billion, more than 25 per cent of the sector’s annual income.
Figures compiled by the Times show that the sector’s debts have also risen over the past year to £10.8 billion, making them particularly vulnerable to financial problems. This means that less prestigious and financially weaker institutions face insolvency, the institute says, with some 13 unnamed universities needing a government bailout to survive.
Alongside this, charity-funded research at universities is expected to fall by 41 per cent for the financial year 2020-21, resulting in a projected reduction in medical research investment of £252-£368 million and further threatening jobs.
Two senior academics at two city based medical schools, who wished to remain anonymous, have told The BMJ of their “significant concerns” about the effects of financial pressure on the quality of student education.
The University and College Union warns that cuts could not have come at a worse time, with clinical academics treating patients during lockdown and medical researchers leading the fight against the virus.