Russell Group universities 'profiting from students' misery' after amassing £2.2bn cash surplus – The Telegraph

The 24 members of the prestigious group were collectively handed over £115 million from the Government in furlough money
The pandemic has led to a £2.2 billion cash boom for the UK’s top universities amid accusations that they are “profiting from students’ misery”.
Spiralling grade inflation after exams were axed and teachers’ predictions were used instead meant that Russell Group institutions have undergone their biggest expansion of student numbers in over a decade.
The country’s most prestigious universities have collectively amassed a surplus of over £2.2 billion, according to analysis of their latest annual accounts by The Telegraph.
Information obtained under freedom of information requests by The Telegraph also reveals that the 24 members of the Russell Group were collectively handed over £115 million from the Government in furlough money.
Vice-chancellors are facing fresh calls to give students a refund, with parents pointing out that youngsters have “only been getting a fraction” of the normal university experience.
Robert Halfon, the Tory chair of the education select committee, 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?”
He added that the higher education regulator should work with universities to ensure “students get the money back they deserve”.
Molly Kingsley, co-founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said it is “outrageous” that students have paid the same tuition fees for the past two years.
She said: “The first thing to do is to offer the students and then the taxpayer a refund. Why are universities profiting from students’ misery?”
It comes as thousands of students faced further disruption this week after lecturers from 68 universities around the country went on strike amid a row over pensions and working conditions.
Not all universities accepted money through the furlough scheme, with Queen Mary University London stating that given the healthy state of its finances it took the "principled decision" not to access it.
Analysis by The Telegraph found that all but two of the Russell Group members ran a surplus during 2020-21. Nine of them ran an even larger surplus than they did the previous year, their annual accounts showed.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, 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 said the surplus figures are “truly 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.”
In 2020-21, the number of first year undergraduates at the country’s top universities increased by 11.9 per cent, official data shows, which includes nine per cent growth in the number of overseas students. This is the largest year-on-year increase in over 10 years and is three times the growth of the rest of the sector during the pandemic.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said that universities have generally "weathered the storm of the pandemic effectively" and are "well placed" to deal with future economic ruptures.
She added that students have endured an “exceptionally difficult time through the pandemic”, which has been brought into “sharp focus” this week as a fresh round of lecturer strikes got underway.
A Russell Group spokesperson said that their members have “worked hard to prioritise students and provide the best possible experience” during the pandemic, including “investing significantly in digital learning and increasing wider support services”.
They pointed out that in-person teaching continued for essential courses throughout the pandemic and since September has been in place for the “vast majority” of courses.
The spokesman said that members “worked tirelessly” to accommodate “as many students as possible” when using teachers’ predicted grades meant that far more than expected received top grades.
Cuts in the value of tuition fees due to rising inflation mean that courses for British students are run at a deficit of up to £2,400 per medical student and £1,000 for those studying classroom-based subjects.
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