By Brian Hipkin, CEO & Founder at ReFRAME HE Consultancy Ltd.

We have reached the ‘what is going to happen next to HE’ point in our response to Covid-19.

The past couple of weeks have seen the curve of speculation flattened somewhat as Universities await the Government response to UUK’s call for help. This is now delayed as it appears that late last week Government decided to press pause on the UUK’s proposed rescue package.

At the same time the mortarium on the issuing of unconditional offers was further extended. There are clearly fears both in the sector and in Government that an uncontrolled admissions cycle this summer could sow the seeds of financial disaster for some Institutions.

It is becoming clear that University finances are heading for a major shock, the effects of which will run through the sector for a minimum of three years. A lot of this modelling is based on a loss of International Students and a demographic dip in the number of eighteen-year olds entering HE. However, many of these models are based on a return to normal face to face, students living on campus model, the probability of which is now increasingly doubtful.

There are somethings that we do know in terms of timing this summer. A level and GSCE results will be released at their normal time this year in the middle of August. The Government is still planning on offering ‘traditional style’ exams to those that are unhappy with the grades awarded to them by their teachers. The aim is to hold these in September or when Schools and Colleges can open. If they can be sat in September then the aim is to get the results out before Christmas 2020, an incredibly tight timeline for possible January 2021 University starts with any delay in their sitting pushing students into a September 2021 start. Indeed, there are signs that all will not be plain sailing even by then. Government is already concerned about year 10 pupils due to take A levels in summer 2021 and there has been talk of delaying these exams until July 2021, putting pressure on the September 2021 admissions cycle.

This last week has brought at least some clarity over student calls for tuition fee refunds. The Universities Minister has pushed back on demands for money back but left the door open for students to complain if the ‘quality’ of their on-line provision is deemed to be inadequate. The only yardstick available to students who have never been taught in this way before to judge the inadequacy of their on-line tuition and support, will be their results.

A global lockdown has given many pause for thought and reflection about the possibility of doing things differently, of a life being changed for good. The last few days have seen a number of such reflections on the theme of a new normal in Higher Education. Some are less than idealistic and see brutal economic realities carving a fundamental restructuring of the sector, other imagine new forms of leadership in HE, whilst others on a smaller scale see feedback fundamentally changing.

We can now add one  thing to our list of known unknowns – some Universities are starting to plan for a completely new world of on-line delivery and support, not just as a way to start this coming September but as their own version of a new and permanent normal.